Robert Koch Gallery is pleased to present an exhibition of photographs taken in Paris during the Second Empire, 1852 – 1870, one of the most fruitful and creative periods in the history of photography. This exhibition is on view May 5 through July 2, 2005.
In 1848, violent revolutions erupted in the capital cities of Europe. In France, following the downfall of King Louis Philippe, Louis Napoleon, the nephew of the legendary Napoleon Bonaparte, was elected president of the new French republic in a landslide victory. In 1852, a year into his term, he dissolved the republic and initiated the Second Empire, declaring himself Emperor Napoleon III. His lasting legacy is the massive reconstruction of Paris that ushered in the modern city, designed and overseen by his prefect, Baron Haussmann.
Prior to the dramatic and unparalleled urban renewal project, Paris was a medieval city of small neighborhoods and narrow meandering streets. Charles Marville was commissioned by Baron Haussmann’s government to document the neighborhoods scheduled for demolition, and his images eloquently portray a forgotten and irretrievable Paris of cobblestone alleyways and ancient buildings. Marville systematically approached the streets of the old city, capturing each location from different points of view and returning to the locations multiple times.
In addition to the destruction of inner-city slums and the creation of the wide boulevards that give the city its characteristic look today, Baron Haussmann’s major accomplishments include construction of major new buildings, such as the Paris Opera. Louis-Emile Durandelle carried out a decade long project photographing sculptural ornamentation in the Paris Opera, which he published after the building was opened, in a portfolio entitled Le Nouvel Opéra de Paris: Sculpture Ornementale.
The Second Empire saw the creation of a number of notable new buildings in Paris, but many of the city’s great architectural landmarks were created long before the modernization of the city. The photographs in this exhibition by Édouard-Denis Baldus and by Gustave Le Gray depict the longstanding monuments and grand buildings of Paris, such as le Palais du Louvre and le Palais Royale. Le Gray and Baldus both worked independently and for Le Commission des Monuments Historiques, which commissioned photographers to create a record of the architecture of Paris and beyond. These artists’ photographs, many from large glass plate negatives, are some of the medium’s most majestic views of the city.
In addition to the photographers who found inspiration in the architecture of Paris and those documenting the city’s vanishing neighborhoods, many other artists experienced a period of pronounced creativity during the Second Empire. Julien Villeneuve was first an exhibiting painter and lithographer before turning to photography shortly after its invention. Villeneuve worked in a studio and concentrated primarily on the female nude, often incorporating classical or mythological themes. He sold his nude studies to the public as well as to painters to use as models for their works.
One of the world’s longstanding centers of art and culture, Paris has been the subject of many great photographs. The photographs created in France from the beginnings of photography through the Second Empire have stood the test of time and established this as one of the seminal periods in the history of the medium.