Ville de Genève


Mise à jour: 07.03.2018

Famous People along the Plainpalais Cultural Trail

Georges Favon, a politician who grew up in this district, General Dufour, the Rath sisters and François Dussaud, a little known inventor, were all personalities who had an impact on the area of Plainpalais and contributed to its development.

Guillaume-Henri Dufour


The Swiss Army’s first ever general, Guillaume-Henri Dufour (1787-1875) was also a politician and cartographer. His conservative and humanist approach prevented the Sonderbund War of 1847 from ending in a bloodbath. Along with Henri Dunant, he was one of the founders of the International Red Cross.

In 1847, the Liberal Diet appointed the conservative officer Guillaume Henri Dufour at the head of its army. The enemy, the troops of the Catholic, conservative cantons of the Sonderbund, were opposed to a centralised state and conspired with foreign powers. Through his humane handling of the war, Dufour managed to achieve peace with a minimum of loss. He thus laid the first cornerstone of the modern Swiss Confederation. But Dufour’s achievements did not end there. As an engineer, he permanently transofrmed the urban development of Geneva and, as a cartographer, created the Dufour Map, the first official map of Switzerland based on accurate geometric measurements.

The Rath Sisters

Sentier culturel 3 Henriette Rath Ville de Genève
© Musée d’art et d’histoire

Although the inscription on the Rath Museum’s pediment mentions Simon as the only donor, the institution owes much in fact to the two Rath sisters.

But who were they? Although Jeanne-Françoise Rath had no known ambition, her sister Henriette was attracted to painting. In 1786, the Geneva Society of Arts took over the running of the School of Drawing from the State and, for the first time in Europe, a class for young women was opened there. In 1798, the Academy for Women was inaugurated; one of whose members was Henriette Rath (1773-1856). At the age of 25, she moved to Paris and became a pupil of Isabey, the famous miniature painter of the day, and later exhibited several times at the Paris Salons. In 1810, she went to Russia to join her brother Simon, a Lieutenant General in the imperial army and painted portraits of the emperor’s family. On her return to Geneva, she supervised the students of the Academy for Young Ladies and displayed her work regularly between 1816 and 1851 at the Society of Arts. When Simon Rath died in 1819, he bequeathed a substantial sum to his sisters, who decided to use it to provide Geneva with a museum of fine arts, long talked about by the Society of Arts. They even went so far as to make up the remaining sum required with 74,000 francs from the fortune earned by Henriette.

Georges Favon

A charismatic leader, energetic polemicist and specialist in public law, this son of Plainpalais was the architect of great social reforms in Geneva, ranging from the modernisation of the public education system to the development of the university and the expansion of the social sciences.

An important figure in popular Radicalism and in Freemasonry in Geneva, Favon started off as a right wing militant but subsequently switched to the extreme left of the Radical Party which he joined in 1872. The fact that he had defended many refugees from the Paris Commune who sought asylum in Geneva played a part in this process. An indefatigable defender of the working classes, several of his visionary projects would not be implemented until fifty or a hundred years after his death: old age and survivors’ insurance (AVS), invalidity insurance (AI) and health insurance.

His name is given to a main thoroughfare in the Plainpalais district and his bust, sculpted by Rodo, was installed in the Place du Cirque in 1952 on the fiftieth anniversary of his death.

François Dussaud

Sentier culturel 3 Francois Dussaud Ville de Genève
© DR

The brilliant Geneva-born physicist François Dussaud not only invented the famous phonograph pickup system and the synchronization of film sound and image, but also developed the first remote control vehicle in 1934!

In 1896 in Paris, he presented a system for electrically recording and reproducing sound with acoustic amplification, the Microphonograph, which he would also adapt to assist the hearing-impared. Then followed the Phenakistiscope (1898) that could project scenes in raised form for the sight-impaired, the Phonorama (1900) to project sound synchronized films, the Dussaudscope, a colour reproduction system and the Epidiascope, a forerunner of our overhead projector.

In the 1930s, his research in the field of endomechanics – or electromechanical computers – made him a pioneer of cybernetics. This prolific inventor even tested a remote-controlled boat on Lake Geneva.

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