Saturday, 22 January 2011

Fake pillars that help to show the reality

I'm not a big fan of trompe l'oeil decorations, but the columns in the Rue Legouvé are more than just ornamental prettiness. They seem to be telling me something, but what is the story they want me to see?

Zoom back out again from this point on Google Street View and you will see the environment in which they are situated. The columns stand at the end of two blank walls that look kiln-fired in terracotta reds. Small windows have popped out on these surfaces at various points, but these are clearly walls that were not meant to be seen.


Look closely at the columns themselves and you can see that they are painted on surfaces that have been clumsily dissected then left with their wounds untreated. Undoubtedly, these columns are in fact on two sides of the same wall.

Why was there originally a wall here though, and why was it removed? For an answer, I need to know when the street on which they are situated was created. The city of Paris website gives me the answer. The street was created in 1902 and named after playwright and poet Gabriel Jean Baptiste Ernest Wilfrid Legouvé (how many names does one man need?) in 1904. This gives me part of the answer, but doesn't solve the mystery of the wall.

As is often the case, Jacques Hillairet's "Dictionnaire historique des rues de Paris" solves this conundrum. The numbers 24-28 of the Rue Lucien Sampaix, the road at the top of the Rue Legouvé, was previously the address of a warehouse where the decors of the Théâtre de l'Ambigu-Comique were stored. In 1896 a terrible fire destroyed the warehouse, and six years later, the building was pulled down and a new road created.

The columns are therefore standing at the back of what was previously a warehouse full of theatrical sets and props. As we stand and admire them, we are hemmed in on two sides by the original walls of that building, and to some extent we are still inside that structure. It is a curious thought, but one rendered more poignant when we look at these blazing red walls and remember the fire that brought this street into existence.

8 comments:

cocopuff1212 said...

Fascinating! Thank you for sharing this.

Anne said...

Great post.

Theresa Cheek said...

Amazing detective work! I am adding this to my list of things to see.

Betty said...

Really interesting. Thank you!

Nathalie said...

What a fascinating story. I never fail to be impressed by what I read here!

Tim said...

I think all the other posters have got there first, so I'll just say it all again: fascinating, a great post, amazing detective work, really interesting and I never fail to be impressed by what I read here.

Peter said...

Bravo for this serious research ... as usual! :-)

Philippa said...

Only in Paris could such a space exist. But who painted the pillars? Who made the space red to symbolize the fire? There is still a tiny corner of this mystery left to be discovered. Let us know if you ever find out. Wonderful post!

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