Ah Paris, even back in 1869 it had the romantic aged patina

Narrow streets of Paris in 1869
Rue de la Montagne-Sainte-Geneviève near the Intersection of Rue LaPlace (Rue de la Montagne-Sainte-Geneviève prés de carrefour de la rue LaPlace)” 1865/69 by Charles Marville (French, 1813–1879)
Available via CC0 Public Domain Designation

It’s probably the American in me skewing years… in 1869 Paris would these buildings be new or really old? Why do I think they would be new? They certainly look aged. I like to imagine the buildings are rather new, but they instantly have that Paris charm, because Paris is just magical.

That’s probably a dangerous generality to make. Because if I characterize Paris as all magical, I could characterize other areas as… not so delightful characteristics.

The Art Institute’s description for this photo is really insightful. Remember, photography was only starting in the 1850s.

Beginning in 1862, Charles Marville served as the official photographer of the city of Paris, documenting the radical reconstruction of the city under Napoleon III’s Prefect of the Seine, Georges-Eugène Haussmann. In a process that became known as Haussmannization, many of Paris’s narrow medieval streets were demolished in order to make room for the wide boulevards and public parks for which it is now known. The city commissioned Marville to photograph the areas slated for destruction as well as the modern amenities, such as gas lighting and commercial kiosks, that would become fixtures of the new urban landscape. With a corpus of more than 400 photographs, Marville produced a remarkable document of Paris in a time of epochal transition.

Interesting points

  1. In 1862 Paris had an official photographer! Really? Do cities continue to have “official photographers”?
  2. This was during Napoleon III’s reign. Again, I should know my history, but I think of Napoleon from earlier in the 19th century. (Fact-checking, yup. I’m thinking of Napoleon I who ruled in the early 1800s)
  3. Paris had to destroy a bunch of streets to make their famous wide boulevards. That’s rather sad. Although, their wide boulevards are awesome.
  4. I’m thankful that Paris had someone document all this.

This photo randomly popped up in a new browser tab via the Art Institute of Chicago’s Art Tab Chrome add-on. (I hacked it to show the images full screen). Here’s how it looked cropped in the browser:

Charles Marville photograph in ArtTab Chrome browser

The street gets cropped out, so you really end up focusing on the textures of the buildings, and that fancy new gas light sticking out.

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