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Representations vs. Reality: Images

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Images of Paris are not only visual representations of the city, but are also representations of political and cultural ideals of the time. On this page you will find examples of how Parisians viewed the city and its monuments, and how they wanted others to see the city and its parts as well. The representations produced throughout the 19th century reflect the change in the point of view of the artists from rational to romantic and political to economic.

Images: Representing Paris

Here are two contemporary images of Paris from the 19th century that attempt to show Paris from a panoramic view. However, they represent Paris very differently. Below is a detailed analysis of both images.

Vue de Paris, Langlace, 1852?

Vue de Paris, M. Lalanne, 1867


Both of these images depict the Paris landscape from a similar point of view. The observer is positioned in the sky, looking down on the landscape. These representations also view Paris as if the observer is outside of the city and not located in the actual space the is being shown. The reason for the point of view in both images is so that the observer is in awe of the landscape. The city expands and displays itself for those to see its grandeur.

However, there are very different motivations for each of these images. The image on the left is a painting done around the time of Haussmann's renovations of Paris. This painting represents the Paris landscape as being conjoined with the rural suburbs around the city (Gaillard, 113). The lush color of the grassy hills and valleys that lie around the city present the city as being close to nature. The actual city itself is presented in a humble fashion. The sun does not shine brightly on the buildings of the city and the buildings that are shown are painted in muted colors so that they blend into the rustic landscape. This idea of the existence of nature with the modern city is a Romantic idea that one can escape to be one with nature. With this representation of nature being "tres proche" or very close to and almost part of the Paris landscape reflects these Romantic ideas of the time.

The drawing on the right is taken from the Paris guide that was published in 1867. This tourist guide depicts the landscape, not as being part of nature, but rather as being an accessible and modern city. The artist has decided to view the city from the Seine river as it flows into the city. The sun casts its rays over the city consisting of buildings, boats and bridges. There are in fact so many buildings that they are indistinguishable from one another. This is obviously depicting Paris as a modern, innovative city with many places to go and many things to see. So many things to see that this overall view is not enough for the viewer to see all the splendors of the city. Tourist who would view this drawing would be anxious to continue on the journey through Paris.

The main difference between these representations of Paris is how the artist presents the city to the viewer. The painting by Langlace presents an earthy and nostalgic view of the city. The drawing by Lalanne presents Paris as an enlightened, modern city with many points of interest. However there are some similarities. The only distinguishable building that is present in both of these images is the Pantheon or the Church of Ste. Genevieve. This structure went through many restorations throughout the end of the 18th century into the first half of the 19th century. All of the changes to the building represented political changes at the time. For example, during the revolution of 1789, the church was decorated with philosophical images, and by 1826 these images were replaced with images of Catholic worship (Galignani, 436). The inclusion of the church in both of these images, represents the importance of the structure throughout times of political and social change.

Both of these images represent the rising of the bourgeoisie class at the middle of the 19th century. The romantic views of nature and the progressive views of the modern city were contemporary ideas of the rising bourgeoisie. The idea that one could enjoy the conveniences of a modern city while being able to escape from it all in the rural suburbs was just one of the ideals of the bourgeoisie class.

Representations of Landmarks

Le Pantheon, M. E. Vernier, 1867

Le Pantheon, Anton Melbye, 1848

These images are two differing views of the famed Pantheon in Paris. Modeled after the Pantheon in Rome, this church is one of the most popular in Paris. It holds the remains of many of France's distinguished citizens including Victor Hugo. The image on the left is a drawing that was found in the Paris Guide that was published in 1867, while the image on the right is a daguerreotype of the church from 1848.

The drawing does not even focus on the church. The foreground is filled with domestic structures that seem to lie in the banlieue or suburbs of the city. Only the dome of the church is visible in the background. This tourist view of the church emphasizes the life of the lower, suburban class that was idealized as being pure. The artist is trying to show the harmony between city and suburb through his depiction of a religious structure.

The daguerreotype on the right portrays the church as it might have actually looked in the mid 1800s. Melbye's image does not dramatize the structure by including visions of the poor. This can be described as a realist view of the Pantheon.

Both of these images reveal changing ideals of the city. Since the tour guide was published well after the invention of daguerreotypes, why didn't the editors of the guide use these kinds of images instead of drawings. In the 1860s after Baron Haussmann's renovation of the city, Paris wanted to display its splendor in both modernization and naturalism. The drawing by Vernier achieves both of these goals.




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