by G. Fernández - theartwolf.com
In the second half of the 19th century, the city of Paris suffered a group of reforms that affected to its interior morphology, with the aim of transform the French capital into the most modern and powerful European metropolis. Napoleon III appointed Haussamnn as the responsible of this ambitious project -later named as the "Haussmann's Paris"-, a project considered, together with Idelfonso Cerdá's Barcelona, as the best example of the European urbanism of the 19 th century, very criticised by functionalist as Van Eesteren, who called it "cardboard urbanism". In this modernizing boost, Paris also was the favourite pictorial motif of the most modern and powerful pictorial trend of that age, the impressionism. From Manet to Caillebotte, from Renoir to Pissarro, and even a "not so impressionist" painter as van Gogh, the new Paris was chosen as the urban motif to his Art.
1: the Paris plain exhibited in the International Exhibition of 1878 (authors: Logerot and Gaultier) showing Paris ' morphology and Haussmann's interventions.
The main point in Haussmann's project was the redesigning of the road system, and the obvious demonstration of it is the boulevards. Far from the glamorous and bourgeois significance of today, Haussmann projected this majestic roads with an evident military objective: its great dimensions allowed the circulation of the troops.
2: Gustave Caillebotte: L'homme au balcon, Boulevard Haussmann (1880, private collection). Although he is not as famous as some of is contemporaries -Monet, Renoir.-, Caillebotte is possibly the painter who had best depicted the Paris of the late 19 th century and its majestic boulevards. Caillebotte plays with the perspective and focus the spectator's sight on the" grandeur" of the great boulevard.
3: Pierre-Auguste Renoir: Les grands boulevards (1875, © Philadephia Art Museum), a total vision of Haussmann's Paris by a painter who rarely used it as a motif for his works. Renoir transported us to the point of view of a Parisian passer-by, allowing us to contemplate the buildings, the tree-lined street and the street furniture, showing in the left corner a streetlamp, a urinary and a bench in which a carefree man is reading a newspaper.
An important point of Haussmann's project referred to the communications was the transformation of the rail stations, considered them as a pivotal part of the city. The rail stations of the Paris in the 19 th century were considered as "symbols of the modernity", one of the favourite motifs for many of the impressionist painters.
4: Claude Monet: La Gare de Saint-Lazare (1877, Paris, Orsay), an impressionistic masterpiece described in the Third Impressionist Exhibition by the magazine L'homme libre" as: "a true wonder. Monet's paintbrush has represented not only the movement, the colour and the activity, but also the rejoicing. It's unforgettable. The station, of course, is full of noise -screeches, whistles- audible through the confusion of the clouds of grey and blue smoke. It's a pictorial symphony"
So the rail stations were also an important part of the impressionist iconography. And among all of them, the Saint Lazare Station (Gare de Saint-Lazare) condensed in itself all the characteristic elements of the modern Paris : an active and busy station, surrounded by majestic boulevards and maisons , with the ultra-modern Pont de L'Europe, a new paradigm of the steel Architecture. Symbol of the industrial and republican future, microcosms of steel and iron, the station was a motif for some of the best painters of the age.
5,6: Gustave Caillebotte: Le Pont de L'Europe, 1876 (Musée du Petit-Palais, Geneve) and Claude Monet: Le Pont de L'Europe in the Gare Saint-Lazare, 1877 (Paris, Musée Marmottan), two different versions of the same place. While Caillebotte emphasises the austerity and purity of the steel architecture, Monet qualifies it, shading it among the station's smoke.
Haussmann anticipates many decades to the functionalist theories that emphasize the importance of the great crossroads as agglutinative points of the traffic, and pivotal points in the new urban order.
7: Camille Pissarro: La Place du Théâtre Français (1898, © Los Angeles County Museum of Art) or the not always successful attempt of putting some order in the circulatory chaos. Pissarro repeated this unusual perspective in many paintings of his last years.
The residence in the Haussmann's Paris was based in the "Maison de Raport", a hierarchy of heights and social classes, which gave Paris a unitary appearance. The façade ordinances had a pivotal importance in this age.
8: Vincent van Gogh: View of Paris from Meudon (1886, Amsterdam, van Gogh Museum) perhaps the most impressionist of all van Gogh's paintings, compared with an actual panoramic from the same hill. Part of the unity in height has been lost, in part for the apparition of new edificatory areas ( La Defense ) and new interventions as the Montparnasse Tower .
The green spaces also suffered significant modifications, being divided into lineal elements (tree-lined streets and boulevards) and urban parks (exteriors, interiors and squares). This intervention was very imitated in other European cities.
9: Edouard Manet: Races at the Bois de Boulogne (1862, private collection), vigorous and dynamic representation of the most important Parisian green spaces, destined to be the leisure space for the citizens of the great metropolis.
The street furniture is unique in Paris , as it is conceived as a fundamental element in the urban project, with a pivotal importance in the urban landscape. Newsstands, benchs, urinary. A very important part is the streetlamps, being Paris the first European city with public lighting.
10: Vincent van Gogh: Montmartre, 1886 (© Chicago, the Art Institute of Chicago ), or how the streetlamps can be considered as a constitutive element of the urban landscape (and of the painting)
11: Camille Pissarro: Boulevard de Montmartre (1897, Melbourne , Victoria Gallery of Art) or the pictorial testimony of the "grandeur" of Haussmann's urban project: public lighting at many levels, newsstand and, benches, aligned and equipping the monumental Boulevard de Montmartre. The unusual point of view, organised by the confluent lines of the roads and the trees, gives the spectator an immediate comprehension of the urban landscape.