Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Yola: le Circle Vicieux

Those who take the Line 2 of the Metro will surely have seen the monumental creation on an abandoned building between the stations of La Chapelle and Stalingrad, but the story behind the work is as interesting as the creation itself.

It is the work of a young artist called Yola (Jola Kudela), who is an atypical street artist for several reasons, and not only for the size of the creations. She's female and originally from Poland, although today she divides her time between London and Paris, and is a recognised compositing artist with credits including the special effects on one of the Harry Potter films!

She describes her work as 'photos mixed with graphic elements', but beyond the beauty of the piece, there is often a social element to her creations. This work, entitled 'le circle vicieux', is an update of a creation of the same name by Polish painter Jacek Malczewski, which dates back to the end of the 19th century. Malczewski was a symbolist who surrounded himself with his demons in the painting, but Yola instead chose to portray photos of people living in the community nearby.

The circle is an important theme in her work, and historically an important theme in Polish culture. She has linked this particular creation to the 'infernal circular dance' of people who have no nation, seeing in these faces the dreams, desires and frustrations of individuals who have come to Paris to find a a new life, or simply to survive.

The building has been empty for as long as I remember, and the work was first placed there to coincide with the Nuit Blanche event in October. Bringing life to abandoned spaces and linking them back to the community in which they are situated is also one of Yola's leitmotifs. "I don't want to vandalize" she said in a recent interview, "but to add something to a worn space".

She is also aware that her works are ephemeral, saying elegantly that "they are objects to live with the time, and they'll ultimately be destroyed by time".

Winter is beginning to fall on Paris now, and small corners of this creation are starting to peel away. Snow, frost and rain will probably remove the rest, if it is not bulldozers coming to pull down the building. From its ruins, something new will rise, completing the circle of city life.

More information on the artist can be found here:

Monday, 28 November 2011

Free, downloadable street art walk finally updated!

Two years ago I published a free downloadable walking tour (in PDF format) on the theme of street art, the third of my Free Paris Walks. I've always wanted to publish others, without ever managing to find the time to see the projects through (those who have tried will probably know how much work goes into the creation of a walking tour), but the least I can do is ensure that those I have already published are still up to date.

This is particularly true with a theme such as street art, which by nature is something that is constantly changing. The area in which this walk is situated - Belleville and Menilmontant - is my home, so I know that many of the featured areas have remained vibrant spots, but I have now updated some points that have disappeared and changed several of the photos.

To download the new version of the walk (Walk 3), click here:

I recently did the walk again on a sunny Sunday morning to confirm the final details, and found that it's probably the best time of all to do the walk! Although street art is the thread that stitches the walk together, it is an interesting route for several other reasons, one of which being the market on the Rue des Pyrenées where you can get excellent Pasteis de Nata cakes! Several other points on the walk have also been featured on this blog, so for those who can't do the walk, here's an idea of what can be seen en route:
Enjoy the walk!

: There seems to be a problem downloading the PDFs with certain combinations of browsers and operating systems. If you do have problems,
send me a mail and I'll find another way to get a copy to you. For those who have previously bought the app for iPhone or Windows 7, your updated walk will be available soon.

Friday, 25 November 2011

From the Archives: What is the significance of the Saint Catherine day?

November 25th is Sainte Catherine's day, otherwise known in France as the day of the Catherinettes. On this day, young women aged 25 who are not yet married have the opportunity to wear a hat and go looking for a husband!

Although the event has little relevance in today's society and is no longer celebrated (apart from in a slightly ironic manner or as a family rite of passage), it was a historically important occasion, and this has been captured by a sculpture in the Square du Montholon in the 10th arrondissement.

The sculpture shows five young working-class women, most probably from the hatmaking or dressmaking trades (of which there were many in the district) celebrating the Sainte-Catherine. It was an important tradition in these communities in French cities in the 19th century, giving young working women the opportunity to break away from the harsh conditions of the workshop. They would put on their best clothes (and a specially made hat) and attend organised balls and parties, events that were sometimes considered their last chance to find a husband!

In this sculpture, the work of an artist called Julien Lorieux, you can see five women linked arm in arm, each wearing an extravagant hat (although not as extravagant as in the photo above!), with two or three of the women also carrying orange blossoms or papier-mâché oranges. These young women have probably been caught by the sculptor at the moment they left their place of work before heading off to the evening ball, an event that they seem to be very much looking forward to.

Julien Lorieux didn't live to see his sculpture being unveiled. As with many men of his generation, he was to die prematurely during the First World War, and although he had created the sculpture in 1908, and sold it to the city of Paris in 1913, it wasn’t displayed to the public until 1923.

By that time, was the tradition already beginning to seem like old-fashioned folklore? The event was off course originally a religious one. Girls were traditionally thought to be under the protection of Sainte Catherine, while Saint Nicolas looked after the boys. On November 25th, girls participated in devotion groups where they created a headdress to place on her statue. Young women left the group when they got married, and therefore taking part in the ceremony became synonymous with still being single after 25.

Although developments in society saw first the religious elements dropped, then the need to find a husband at an early age, it is still pleasing to see a popular tradition commemorated in this manner. So, if you know any unmarried 25 year old women, don't forget to wish them a happy Sainte Catherine's day on the 25th!

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Socialism and Sects at the Square des Saint-Simoniens

Near the summit of Paris sits what seems to be one of the quietest parks in the city, with little remaining to trace it back to its time as the centre of a curious - but very influential - social movement called saint-simonianism.

Today the park is surrounded by apartment blocks, including one large tower that dominates the eastern edge. In the morning sun, a small group practices tai chi moves under the bare cherry trees. Well wrapped children brave the dew drops in the playground, whilst a group of teenagers play football as seriously as if it were an important cup final. It is a scene of serene egalitarianism, and one the saint-simonians would no doubt have approved of.

The movement
Saint-simonianism was
a kind of utopian socialism, inspired by the ideas of Claude Henri de Rouvroy, comte de Saint-Simon, particularly those in the journals he published in the early 19th century. His profound belief was that science and industry would liberate people from medieval theocracies, and that useful work would create true equality. To this end, he has been recognised as an influence to a diverse range of people, including Auguste Comte (
featured here previously on Invisible Paris, and who was once Saint-Simon's secretary), Karl Marx, and John Stuart Mill.

Amusingly, one of his works, 'De la réorganisation de la société européenne' (On the reorganisation of European society), seems to predict today’s European Union, with the exception being that he placed the United Kingdom at the heart of the institution, rather than as a meddlar on the fringes!

Towards the end of his life though, Saint-Simon reverted back towards a kind of benevolent christianity, a move that led his followers to veer off in two different directions after his death in 1825.

Those still promulgating the power of science and industry were less visible than the other branch - led by the charismatic Prosper Enfantin - who twisted saint-simonianism towards what would be today classed as a religious sect. Enfantin declared himself to be the Père Suprême (Supreme Father) of the movement, and began making declarations such as the fact that ‘the tyranny of marriage’ would be replaced by a system of ‘free love’.

Enfantin always wore a badge on his breast displaying his title of ‘Père’, and was known by his followers - who were encouraged to wear a special uniform - as ‘the living law’. He gave some of his missionaries the task of finding him a ‘female messiah’ who would be the mother of the ‘new saviour’, but no suitable person was ever found.

With his activities becoming more and more bizarre, Enfantin began to attract the attention of the authorities, and in 1832, his offices in Paris were closed by the government. Following this, he chose to retire to the estate in Menilmontant his mother had left him (on the site of today’s Square des Saint-Simoniens park, but at that time a large country house conveniently far away from the city and the authorities). Joining him were 40 disciples, all men, who would jointly attempt to create a new defining text - Le Livre nouveau – which would reveal the truth through mathematical formulas.

On Saturdays and Sundays the community would open its doors to visitors (quite a trek up the hill in those days), but when this too began to attract too many people, Enfantin and his followers were arrested (strangely enough, by a ‘commissaire de Belleville’ called Maigret!). At his trial, Enfantin would not let his followers speak without his permission, and asked to be defended himself by two women ‘because the subject was of particular importance to women’. This request was refused and he was sentenced to one year in prison.

Prison though was no hardship for Enfantin. He continued to attract followers behind bars, and was even invited to dine with the director of the prison. Indeed, being 'retained' in a four-room apartment, he was even able to write to those outside that ‘nous sommes ici comme des princes’ (we live here like princes)!

In reality though, Enfantin was highly discredited by the trial and the imprisonment, and had become a figure of ridicule in the press. His branch of saint-simonianism died out at this point, although he himself continued to hold positions of responsibility and influence, for example in the new railway companies that were being created.

Other followers of Saint-Simon also took on posts of great importance, and the ideals of the movement lived on in many of the actions of the French state, as well as in the creation of a feminist movement. It is a movement that is still much studied today, with some claiming that it forms the basis of modern socialism.

The house and park
The Square des Saint-Simoniens park was created in 1937, and it is perhaps a little strange that it has kept the name of the movement, particularly as it was only associated with it for a short period in 1832. Little is written on what happened to Enfantin's house after his release for prison, but what is known is that
he died in another house on the Rue Ballu in 1864. He was buried in the Père Lachaise cemetery, and you can still see his tomb - with a superbly bearded bust - today.

Although saint-simonianism is a much written about subject, Enfantin's house in Menilmontant seems to have not attracted much attention. However, from the sketch below - dating from 1869, 5 years after his death - it looks as if it must have been a very impressive place, albeit not especially egalitarian!

Perhaps it fell into ruin after Enfantin's death, but nothing else is listed for the site until 1925 when building permits began to be issued. Several constructions are listed for the site up until 1935, with the park being finished itself on the house's grounds in 1937. Nothing seems to remain from the original construction, but perhaps it had a typically saint-simonian ending. A space which contained just one large house which was home to one person is now filled with a mixed range of housing and a shared park for people of all ages, sexes and races!

Friday, 18 November 2011

Born free

As an immigrant, my place of birth has taken great signification. Despite living in France now for more than a third of my life, I am still defined by my country of origin. Is it something that ever really leaves you?

One person who might be able to tell me is an old lady who
was born in Paris but now lives in New York. Her place of birth was so important that there is still a plaque today on the very spot that she came into the world. Her name? The statue of liberty.

Like many other immigrants, she has become more closely connected with her country of adoption than her country of origin, even going as far as becoming a symbol of her new land. In truth, it was easy for her. She was welcomed as a star on her arrival, and went to a place which has always been defined by immigration, and where almost all its inhabitants can trace their origins back to other lands.

Artist Paul Joseph Victor Dargaud captures the birth of the statue of liberty, before she grew too large for Paris.

In France, the relationship with immigrants has always been more difficult, and there is no symbol holding out a shining light to welcome new arrivals (ironic therefore that she should be born in this land). I know that I am in a privilieged position to be an immigrant by choice and not financial or political necessity, and to come from a place that is seen positively (albeit with some suspicion!) in the country, but to my French friends, colleagues and family I will always be the Englishman.

However, there is no plaque at my birthplace. In fact my exact place of birth no longer exists - the hospital in which I was born was demolished several years ago - but I still have a paper, a language, an accent, physical traces and roots that refuse to snap.

A mystery - solved!
The statue of liberty was born on the Rue de Chazelles near the Parc Monceau in the 17th arrondissement. Like my hospital, the atelier (the foundry of Gayet where the casts were made)
has been replaced by something else in what is now a very residential environment.

The question I had asked was who was Milt Forrest and what was his role in this initiative? Thanks to Philippa from the Parisian fields blog, I now have the answer. This Milt Forrest was a Hollywood businessman with a passion for stamp collecting. He just happened to be in Paris at around the 75th anniversary of the statue, and bought a special edition stamp - by chance from a shop opposite the studio in which the statue was built. After discovering that there was no permanent marker for this spot, he vowed to pay for one to be put up, something that was done a few months later. 

Is this the same Milt Forrest? ('Milt Forrest, Hollywood advertising man and originator of the air mail postcard') I hope so because it's a great photo!

Monday, 14 November 2011

Collapsing dreams

Middle-class Nogent sur Marne to the east of Paris is not the kind of place you would expect to find eastern-bloc styled architecture, but the suburbs of Paris are in fact liberally sprinkled with such designs. Although Nogent was not one of the 'banlieu rouge' (or ceinture rouge) towns, in another recent era it did apparently share some of the same social policies - and dreams - as its more left-leaning neighbours.

In the centre of the town stands pure concrete functionalism. Housed here is the town's market, with a larger sports centre looming above it. It reminds me of the buildings of Hungary, a country I lived in for a year, and everything about this structure seems familiar - right up to the font face (and colour) used for the sign on the sports centre.

A giant red 'municipal' - a word announcing public ownership, something that is becoming more and more difficult to find in a world of PPPs. Here is equipment provided for the town's population, good food, and sport for the soul. Healthy, happy people, the dream of all local authorities. Significantly, no fast-food or soft drink logos are visible inside or outside the building.

This 1960s vision of city life though is in steep decline. The structure is condemned, destined to be replaced by a new model. Few will mourn the passing of this installation, judged to be ugly and impractical today, but it should not be forgotten from which dreams this building was born.

Earlier this year I visited the Nogent town museum and discovered an exhibition - a short history of shopping in the Paris region in the last two centuries. Amongst pictures of 19th century market stalls and 1960s supermarkets, I was struck by one particular photo - a black and white image of a building crushed under the weight of exceptional snowfall.

I can find almost no evidence online for this event, and the photo now seems like something I dreamed. The only reference is two lines on a website - 'the market in Nogent sur Marne, built in 1912, suffered a terrible accident in 1942 and was demolished. The new market was built a little further north in 1970'. As I remember it from the exhibition, it was an accident that killed dozens of people, trapped during a simple shopping trip. Death and destruction stands out when placed alongside smiling market stall holders and brightly coloured fruit and veg.

1942 - 1970. Apparently it took the town authorities 28 years to build a new market building, but by the time it was built, the era had changed. People wanted solidity. Historical buildings were subject to fire and collapse, and new dreams were needed.

But how long do dreams last? All buildings begin with a vision, a sketch, an idea, a design that tries to fit with the desires of those that will use them. This building was hefty practicality, a functional strength that reassured those who still remembered war and disaster. Ironically, it is now labelled as unsafe itself, and not up to today's standards. Born the same year as me, it is now defunct. Will the new dream last longer?

Thursday, 10 November 2011

From the archives: The First World War at the Gare de l'Est

This post was first published on this blog three years ago (have I really been running the blog for that long?), but is still just as relevant today. As content sometimes tends to get lost on blogs, I thought I'd republish it for people who many not have time to waste sifting through the archives!

The eleventh day of the eleventh month is better known as the Armistace, the day when the First World War was finally brought to an end. Strangely, Paris does not have a monument to commemorate this conflict, but there is one place in the city you can visit which is still imbued with memories – the Gare de l’Est.

The war ended famously in a train carriage in the forests of Compiegne just outside Paris, but for many it also began in trains, at the Gare de l’Est. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers were sent out to the eastern front-lines from this station, and the Hall des Departs was a permanent buzz of comings and goings. Despite a recent renovation to welcome the TGV Est, this departure hall retains its original structure, and you can still imagine young recruits joking and laughing, couples saying tearful goodbyes and children waving to disappearing fathers. Most thought these separations would be simply an au revoir, but for more than 1 million French soldiers, it was an adieu.

The significance of this site is celebrated in a painting which still hangs today in the hall, although it now has to compete with the bright lights of retail outlets and flashing information screens. Most visitors to the station rush through, perhaps quickly grabbing a drink or a magazine before catching a train, but this immense, remarkable painting, entitled ‘Le Depart des Poilus, le 2 aout 1914’, deserves greater consideration.

The canvas, more than 60m2 in size, is the work of the American artist, Albert Herter. He presented it to the company running the station in 1926, but it was more than just a generous gift. Herter lost a son in the conflict, and the painting is a monumental tribute to his memory. Executed in soft, melancholic blues, greys and browns, it describes a scene which would have been a typical one in this railway location during the conflict.

When we investigate more closely however, we find that it contains not only universal themes but also intensely personal details. It is in fact a fantastic montage built around a triangular trinity of the father, the mother and the departing, soon to be dearly departed son. The artist/father is on the right-hand side, whilst his wife (the artist Adele McGinnis Herter) is facing him on the opposite side of the painting. Both seem to already be in mourning, with the father carrying a bouquet of flowers, hand upon heart, and the mother clasping her hands together. They seem elderly, certainly older than they would have been in 1914, and probably closer to their physical appearance in 1926.

It is the son, Everit, however who is the principal, central focus of the composition. At first glance he seems triumphant and unconcerned, with his arms held aloft whilst people at his feet weep and embrace. Look more closely though, and you’ll notice the flowers sticking out of the rifle in his hand and his head thrown back. With the knowledge of what became of Everit in mind, you may notice that his arms form a cross, and that he seems almost to be a Christ-like, sacrificial figure.

Everit Herter, like his father and mother before him, had chosen an artistic path, and had studied to be a painter. His privileged background offered him no protection, and indeed it was almost a rite of passage for the wealthy young men of his generation to sign up for this ‘just’ cause. His father had spent several years in France, and perhaps this explains why Everit signed up with the French army. Tragically, Everit was killed only months before the armistice. He was one of the wasted generation, but a spark of that youth is forever immortalised through the defiant figure depicted in this painting.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

19th Century Paris: 'Elle coud, elle court, la grisette'

The third exhibition with strong links to Paris in the 19th century that I am featuring is 'Elle coud, elle court, la grisette' running at the Maison de Balzac until January 15th 2012. The exhibition takes a look at one of Paris's historical cultural icons, la grisette, who although born in the 17th century, was particularly prevalent in the 19th century.

Here I talk to Nathalie Preiss, co-author of a book to accompany the exhibition, about the life of the grisette in Paris, and what we can learn about her through the exhibition.


Who was la grisette?

: We can trace the origins of the grisette back to the 17th century. She typically worked in the textile industry, making or selling clothes, and was named after the grey material she wore. The name stuck, even if by the 19th century she was wearing far more colourful clothes.

The myth of the grisette grew thanks to the many representations of her that could be found in all media forms, dating back to La Fontaine’s ‘Joconde, ou l’infidélité des femmes’ written in 1664.
Although there were grisettes in all French cities, the ‘reine des grisettes’ was undoubtedly the Parisian model!

Did the grisette really exist, or was she just the creation of male artists?

: She most certainly did exist, and we have a lot of archive material on her working life and what she did in her free time, as well as on her social and living conditions. However, it is also true to say that her image was magnified in society through the work of authors such as Auguste Ricard, and above all, Paul de Kock.

What is more difficult though is to pin the grisette down to one particular identity. Throughout her lifespan, what typifies her is how she is constantly evolving. We find her in many different trades, at many different hierachical levels, right across Paris, during the day and of course in the evening too. She is often elusive and always in movement. Indeed, she was often compared to a bird by contemporary observers.

What role did the grisette play in 19th century Paris?

: In many ways she represented modernity in society. She was completely implicated in the transformation of the textile industry, which was moving from small-scale operations towards the ‘grands magasins’ that were born in the 19th century, and which are of course still with us today.
She also played many roles in the cultural and social life of the city, for example at the bals and guingettes, as well as at the theatre which was growing in importance.

Was the grisette a ‘soumise’, or was she instead the first truly independant woman?

: We can perhaps say that she was in a submissive position in her work, but even here that depended on her post. There was a distinct hierachy amongst the grisettes, from the ‘trottin’ who was the youngest member of staff in a shop, up to the skilled couturier who worked independantly at her home – which of course was still a small room under the mansard roof!

The grisette was never wealthy, but she was someone who tended to look after the man she loved, rather than be someone who was looked after. In her relationships with men she could be both sentimental and practical. It was often said that she had two lovers – an ‘amant métallique’ generally a married member of the bourgeoisie who gave her money, and an ‘amant de coeur’, typically a penniless student, whom she financed.

In the 19th century, there was also much talk about la lorette. What differences were there between her and the grisette?
NP: They were not the same animal at all! The lorette was invented by a journalist, Nestor Roqueplan, in 1841, and referred to women who lived around the Notre Dame de Lorette district. She dressed differently from the grisette, and certainly avoided all forms of work. She was the classic ‘femme entretenue’, linked to one wealthy man only, and she rarely ventured outside of her immediate ‘quartier’.

The grisette could of course become a lorette, but it entailed such a radical change in appearance and lifestyle, that she would have nothing of the grisette left in her at all!

How is the exhibition at the Maison de Balzac organised, and why was it organised in this particular location? Are there any links between Balzac and the grisette?

: She was often featured in the works of Balzac, for example in ‘Une double Famille’, where the married Comte de Granville seeks solace in the arms of grisette, so the Maison de Balzac is an entirely appropriate location in which to situate the exhibition!

What we didn’t want to do with this exhibition is offer a thematic path, showing only representations of her working and social life. We were more interested in capturing the fleeting nature of the grisette, and how she was constantly changing.

For this reason, the first rooms look at all the conditions of the grisette - mostly showing where this hard-working person was employed - and her ‘constellation’, in other words the kinds of people who surrounded her, and the possible evolutions she could experience - both upwards and downwards in society!

We then show how it was possible to recognise a grisette, and try to list and show all of the principal profiles she had. A room called ‘Les plaisirs et les jours… et les nuits’ shows how she enjoyed herself when not working!

We are very fortunate because the grisette was featured in so many different media forms. For this reason, we have been able to create an exhibition that covers a very wide range of supports, including literature, caricature and painting - and of course the clothes she wore.

One of the most important ways she was described was in the songs of the time, and we felt it was essential to feature music in the exhibition. Working with Le Hall de la chanson (nb - you can listen to some extracts here), we have been able to faithfully recreate the exact original melodies of the songs, so visitors will hear exactly the same music and songs as the grisettes themselves listened to.

When did the grisette disappear?

NP: Throughout her existence people were always announcing her death only for her to reappear again in another slightly different form. The lorette took over some of her roles in the popular imagination, and later words such as cousette and midinette begun to become more popular, but overall we can say that the grisette never really died - she was simply transformed!


Until January 15th
Maison de Balzac
47, rue Raynouard 75016
Tuesday to Sunday, 10am - 6pm, except public holidays

Entrance: €3 - €6

Note: a very interesting catalogue to accompany the exhibition has been written by Nathalie Preiss, and is available both at the Maison de Balzac and in bookshops.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

19th Century Paris: The Marché Carreau du Temple

Sometimes, when walking through the city, you see something and know that you are witnessing a scene that has not been seen by generations before and will not be seen by those that come after. Such is the case currently at the site of the Marché Carreau du Temple in the 3rd arrondissement.

Alongside autumn leaveless trees, the market building has been stripped to its elegant bones. This is the original cast-iron skeleton that appeared first on this site in 1863, and reappeared during renovations for the Foire de Paris in 1904. Since that date, the structure had always been dressed, clothed in glass and brick, until work began again this year to transform the site into a centre for culture and sport.

What previously seemed functional and heavy now looks featherlight, with its frame as intricate as the threads in a spider's web. It would be difficult to imagine its purpose, and even more difficult to picture it filled with thousands of shoppers. However, from the beginning, it was a market that attracted large crowds, particularly those looking for cheap clothes.

Between the 1950s and 1970s, the market was home to over 1000 traders. By the 1980s that figure had dropped to around 360, and as a new century dawned, the total dropped further still. When it was finally closed to the public, the immense hall was only welcoming around 10 stalls.

However, although its usefulness as a place of commerce had long been in terminal decline, it did manage to survive an attack on its very existence. In 1976, the local authorities had proposed to pull down the building and construct a parking lot. Local residents fought the proposition, which was eventually abandoned, and the building was declared a protected historic monument in 1982.

Which explains why the skeleton is still standing today, ready for its new - more useful - body. This cast-iron frame, which had grown used to silence, will once again see large crowds under its carcass from 2013, a historic building reborn.

History though, hides history. This structure is a survivor, but beneath it, lies centuries of previous uses of this land. Churches, cemeteries and the walls of the Knights Templar's properties have previously stood here, all of which are slowly being uncovered by archeologists, at the same time as the market is recycled for new uses.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

19th Century Paris: 'Le Peuple de Paris'

The second of the three exhibitions I am featuring this week is 'Le Peuple de Paris' running at the Musée Carnavaet until February 26th 2012. It is a sociological investigation into the lives of the working classes in Paris in the 19th century, looking particularly at how these people and their lifestyles, were portrayed by artists and the media at the time, and provides an intruiging and original insight into an era that continues to fascinate us today.

I asked Miriam Simon, Chief Curator of the exhibition, about how the idea for the exhibition came about and what messages it is seeking to get across about a population and a period which is much misunderstood.


How did this exhibition originate?

MS: The project stems from the fascinating graphic art collection we have at the Musée Carnavalet, particularly the fascinating and important set of caricature lithographs of the people of Paris. French historiography had, certainly until the 1970s, mainly studied the ‘people’ through the labour movement, so it seemed there was room for a more sociological investigation of this socio-economic category, which - taken in its widest sense - represented over two thirds of the population of Paris in the nineteenth century.

How different was life in Paris in the 19th century for the proletariat compared with earlier centuries?

MS: Paris was confronted by many fundamental changes in the nineteenth century, including the industrial revolution, the extension and transformation of the city, and a population explosion, all of which substantially changed the lives of the people - their rhythms, their working conditions, their housing, the way they moved around, how they were looked after by philanthropic societies or governments, not to mention the beginnings of mass culture and the consumer society. However, some features remained from previous centuries, or in fact became things to fight for, in resistance to what was often becoming a very brutal way of life.

Was there an improvement in the standard of living across the century?
MS: Despite the trauma caused by an industrial revolution that was even more violent than it could have been as protection for the people was very slow to be put in place, we can observe a move towards a better standard of living and an increasing search for intimacy.

What can we learn about the people of Paris in the 19th century from the exhibition?
MS: The exhibition challenges certain assumptions about lifestyles at the time, including the alleged mixing of social classes in the pre-Haussmannian city. In general, the documents - which were very largely produced by the elite - show the "people" in a way which was anything but neutral.

We felt that we needed a common thread to tackle a topic as huge as this, and the one we chose was the human body. The working classes are those who perform manual activities, requiring manual dexterity and - or - physical strength, which distinguishes them from other classes. In the nineteenth century, the working classes found themselves in ever increasing confrontation with the bourgeoisie, and this class - which controlled the media - chose to portray the proletariat in ways that differentiated them from themselves. To this end, the people were often qualified by their body, with historians such as Alain Corbin showing how the bourgeoisie often linked them to the odours of the city and the spread of diseases.

How is the exhibition organised?
An introductory room puts the 'people' in their chronological, spatial and symbolic context. After that, we present the most significant corporeality sectors, which, as we have discussed, was the major characteristic of the people. A large room shows the material living conditions, and also the modes of relaxation and recreation. The work of Daumier, who was a unique artist as he had working class origins and was the only artist to look at the topic of the 'people' from the inside, is also the subject of a special presentation.

Misery, poverty, and their treatment by the elite, are then presented in a section linking them together with the increase in health and social fears. This leads to the last room that ends the exhibition with an evocation of revolution. This subject, which in the collective memory characterises to a large extent the people of Paris of the nineteenth century, highlights the different forms and manifestations of this fear of the 'peuple de Paris'.

Le peuple de Paris au XIXe siècle: Des guinguettes aux barricades
Musée Carnavalet 23, rue de Sévigné 75003
Open daily, from 10am - 6pm, except Mondays and public holidays.
Tickets - from
3,5 - €7
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