Enfin, Paris!: The Garnier, exterior

. . .Garnier, the architect of the Paris Opéra, had asked Prix de Rome laureates to embellish the façade of his building with sculptures. The commission specified the size and composition of the sculpted group which was to consist of a central figure flanked by two allegorical figures. Only Carpeaux did not respect its terms, but Garnier, aware of Carpeaux’s genius, accepted his project which included seven figures. The subject is that of a dance bacchanal. Priestesses of the god Bacchus dance a wild farandole around a winged genius who seems to surge from the wall and fly into the air. All the lines, the curves of the bodies and arms, the diagonals of the legs, contribute in creating an effect of upward movement and unbridled rhythm. When it was unveiled, the sculpture caused a scandal. In an act of vandalism, a bottle of ink was thrown at the female figures. Some critics of the time saw in it “a dishevelled group, with lascivious movements, panting nudity…”, symbolising “imperial celebration”. But with the war of 1870, the scandal was forgotten and when the Opéra was inaugurated in 1875, there is no question of removing the sculpture. Carpeaux died on October 12, 1875.

“The group on show in the museum is the much damaged original. It is being sheltered here from the weather and pollution and has been replaced at the Opéra by a copy made by Paul Belmondo (the son [correction: the father] of the actor) in 1964.”

– Ch. Sniter, N. Hodcent and J. Bolloch, translation: F. Troupenat and E. Hinton Simoneau, French Sculpture Daumier, Carpeaux, Rodin…, Musée d’Orsay, 2005

We were staying a walking distance to the Garnier Opera house. It is something to see that Carpeaux, that you have seen in a book in black and white for a lifetime, able now to be seen in person. Except as I realize later, you are seeing a wonderful copy, done by Jean Paul Belmondo’s dad!

If you click on the photo and look to your right you will see it in context of the facade. The original in the d’Orsay is something else, but out of context it loses a little of the magic. That Carpeaux predated Rodin, and worked on some of the same themes is an analysis in style and period. There is, of course, no comparison, but that does not diminish Carpeaux.

Building occurred from 1862 to1875. Its architect, Charles Garnier, had been picked from among 171 contestants and  had won the Rome prize in 1848. After construction was finally started, it was interrupted by a  discovery of an underground lake and spring. A problem overcome, but still exisitng today, under its cellars. This fact became part of the background for the famous novel, Le Fantôme de l’Opéra.

Facing the front, construction was going on at the left side (the one that faces American Express offices), so parts were covered. The Opera is a huge building and there is a scale model at the d’Orsay which actually shows, the size of the theater, which looks small by comparison, but seats over 1,000, I believe. The building takes up a city block and the Metro sits in front and is actually a a busy hub for several lines.

This is one of these buildings that the detail is so rich, even if you think it is wedding cake, you have to look twice. Judging by the top areas near the dome (right), Garnier must have looked at Le Château de Versailles, for that detail, except now at Versailles, they have gone over it with gold leaf! Garnier’s look is more stone carving, post neo-Classical, with no frou frou gold! All this stucco and stone carving embellishment, and yet it is never too excessive. More so on the outside, where the eye is allowed to rest. Just as a lot of his symmetry is never so typical, that it becomes predictable. I like to look at some of the things he has done up close.

Night and day also give a very different view of Garnier. I was wondering what kind of color was present to folks of the 1870s, since gas was the means of lighting. How people disembarked, since it had to have all been carriages. I remember Madison Square Park, where I worked in New York, and the decorative horse troughs, which I think are now gone on the south side. And this is the same kind of thing, things built into the system, now no longer with relevance. A little like “modern” architecture before the advent of computer technology availability.

Is it the secret bourgeoisie in us that makes us want to see buildings like these? If you are in a hurry, go see the Garnier, if only to get off the Metro and walk around. Daytime is bustling. Take a little time if only to change money or on your way back to the airport, where buses leave nearby. In the evening, the neighborhood appears to be quiet and safe, from what I could see many fellow tourists around to explore the beauty, although like many goofies, to take their picture in front of something. I always remember Godard’s Le Petit Soldat, where the guys come back to their wives with postcards, exclaiming they have brought back “treasures of the world.” So, I guess, we ALL bring back these treasures of the world to lord over!


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2 Responses to “Enfin, Paris!: The Garnier, exterior”

  1. dweebcentric Says:

    i love the shots of the carpeaux sculptures, especially because you can view them in a very large format!

  2. Enfin, Paris!: C’est gratuit. Freebies 1! « Thinkvisual's Blog Says:

    […] https://thinkvisual.wordpress.com/2011/04/23/enfin-paris-the-garnier-exterior/ […]

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