Napoleon slept here

I don’t remember where I bought the postcard, although the price on the back shows that I lashed out a whopping 5 euros on it. It shows an undistinguished shopfront covered in advertising. It must have been the caption that caught my eye: “33 rue Vauvilliers, Anciennement Hotel de Cherbourg, habité en 1787 par Napoleon Bonaparte.”

When the photograph was taken in the early 1900s, the former Hotel de Cherbourg was an agency owned by one Emile Degroiseilliez who bought and sold butcher’s shops or their equipment (if I am translating the signs correctly).

To the left, at No.  31, is an establishment owned by someone called Métifeux, who appears in a 1907 business directory as a wine merchant at that address. The business on the right is harder to make out, but the same directory tells me that No. 35 was occupied by someone called Sutter, who sold specialized attire for people working in kitchens or other parts of the food business.

Today, the rue Vauvilliers extends for one block only, between the rue St-Honoré and the rue Berger, which skirts the south side of the huge development of Les Halles. No. 33 is nowhere to be seen. The numbers go up only as far as 11 on the odd-numbered side of the road.

But the rue Vauvilliers (in Napoleon’s day it was called the rue du Four St-Honoré) once continued north all the way to the space in front of St-Eustache. In the late 19th century, and at the time the photograph was taken for the postcard, the huge market buildings of Les Halles took up the eastern side of the street.

So my fingers did the walking to the wonderful website of the archives of Paris to look at their detailed maps.

The archives provide maps for before and after 1860, when the city’s geography changed. Here is the older version. I love the way it shows the interior layout of the buildings. No. 33 is about halfway up on the right side of the block.

The archives also providea a map from later in 19th century showing that when the postcard was made, No. 33 faced the market buildings in Les Halles where meat and fowl were sold (so the enterprise for buying and selling butcher’s shops makes sense).

This is what it looked like in 1866, in a photograph taken from the intersection with the rue de Vannes (another street that has disappeared) by Charles Marville, long after Napoleon’s day.

The map from the archives shows how this oddly shaped block was designed to complement the circular market building to the west, the Halle aux Blés, later known as the Bourse de Commerce, now an art exhibition space. That was certainly there in Napoleon’s day, as shown in a 1785 drawing by Jean-Baptiste Maréchal.

It also appears on a 1788 map by L.F. Deharme.

So what was Napoleon, aged about 18, doing hanging about in Paris in September 1787? He had, of course, spent time in Paris at the Ecole Militaire when he was in his mid teens, but at this point, he was on leave from the military, and was in the capital on family business. He occupied room No. 9 on the third floor at the hotel Cherbourg.

Apparently it was all about mulberry trees. Bear with me. Mulberry trees are used to raise silkworms. Napoleon’s family had started a plantation of mulberry trees, with funding from the government, hoping to develop the silk industry in Corsica. Mulberry trees take a while to mature, and before the plantation was fully grown, the government cut off the funding. Napoleon’s job was to get the funding restored.

He was not successful. It’s a wonder that anyone thought that this teenager without connections would make any headway on a project in which the bankrupt government of Louis XVI had long since lost interest. Otherwise, he spent time trying to write historical fiction. That wasn’t successful either. He didn’t stay long at the Hotel de Cherbourg.

Napoleon had many addresses in Paris over the years, but one other establishment is connected with his teenaged years: No. 5, quai de Conti, where he spent time in 1785. This image dates from 1827, when the building contained the offices of the Encyclopédie Méthodique.

Here is where it fits on the map from 1788. It was on the corner between the rue de Nevers and the rue Dauphine, facing the Pont Neuf.

Napoleon didn’t live there. It belonged to a family called the Permons (or Permonds), Corsican friends of the Bonapartes, who invited him to stay from time to time while he was studying at the Ecole Militaire. One of the daughters of the family, who later married the Duc d’Abrantes, wrote down her memories of Napoleon:

My father, who was acquainted with almost all the heads of the military school, obtained leave for him sometimes to come out for recreation. On account of an accident—a sprain, if I recollect right—Napoleon once spent a whole week at our house. To this day, whenever I pass the Quai Conti, I cannot help looking up at a garret window at the left angle of the house, on the third floor. That was Napoleon’s chamber when he paid us a visit, and a neat little room it was. (p. 23)

That house is gone now, too, replaced by a group of buildings from the 1920s known as the Carrefour Curie, which makes an architectural nod to the 18th century, with an unusual arched entryway to the adjoining rue de Nevers right through the middle of the building.

However, the old quai de Conti house would have stood long enough for Napoleon to have seen it in later days, if he ever looked across the river from the Louvre. But I doubt that he was sentimental about old buildings.

Text by Philippa Campsie, image of No. 33, quai Conti from Musee d’Art d’Histoire; image of Carrefour Curie from Paris La Douce; all other images from Gallica and our postcard collection; maps from Wikimedia and the Paris Archives.

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“What is the significance of the name Loretto?” asked Norman, looking at a picture of the former Loretto Academy in Niagara Falls. “It reminds me of that church in Paris.”

Notre-Dame-de-Lorette in Paris is an imposing Neoclassical edifice in the 9th arrondissement, and I vaguely remembered something about the name being used for prostitutes operating in that area, but clearly some research was in order.

First, I dug out a postcard from our collection. (For the curious, the message is an invitation to a Robert Guillon to visit on a Thursday at 9:15 in January 1904, from his friend M.B. Georges. I think.)

Since I am not a Catholic, it was news to me that Loreto in Italy is a pilgrimage site containing what is believed to be the house from Nazareth in which the Virgin Mary lived at the time of the Annunciation by the Angel Gabriel. According to legend, angels brought it from the Holy Land, after a stopover in what is now Croatia.

The more prosaic version is that in the 13th century the house in Nazareth was dismantled stone by stone, transported by ship and overland, and reassembled in Loreto by a family called Angelos in order to protect it from non-Christian aggressors in the Holy Land. The legend, however, is more picturesque, as this preparatory study for a fresco by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo* suggests.

The name Notre-Dame-de-Lorette (Our Lady of Loreto or Loretto) has been given to Catholic churches and schools in many countries, including Canada, and to a huge French military cemetery from the First World War near Arras. In 1920, Our Lady of Loreto became the patron saint of aviators and airplane passengers. I love that.

The Paris church dates from the 19th century, and replaces an older church near the site that was destroyed during the Revolution, a more modest structure.

On the little map, the newer church is across the road, roughly where it says “Plan de Jaillot.”

In the 1830s, the surrounding area was known as La Nouvelle Athènes (New Athens), and rue Bréda (now called rue Henry Monnier) was known for its population of prostitutes. Lorettes were also known as brédas.

In those days, prostitution took different forms. As with everything else, class distinctions mattered.

In the top rank were the courtesans or grandes horizontales, mistresses who were expected to provide their services exclusively (or so he was led to believe) to a wealthy and aristocratic man. They lived fashionable and often quite public lives.

Much farther down the spectrum were the grisettes, working-class women who set up housekeeping with students or artists. Some worked a triple shift: as seamstresses or shopgirls during the day, as housekeepers and cooks in the evening, and as bed companions at night. Although some depictions of grisettes make them sound like romantic figures, devoted to their partners, the arrangement tended to break down when the student left Paris or the artist began to make a name for himself. The name grisette is said to reflect the grey dresses that seamstresses and shop assistants wore.

Some women worked in maisons closes, brothels that were managed by a “madam” (often a former prostitute too old to do that work, but who knew her way around the profession) and regulated by the police.

Then there were filles publiques – streetwalkers, often harassed by police.

In the middle were the lorettes, freelancers, or filles insoumises, who did not report to the authorities or to a madam. Their clients tended to be middle-aged or older, bourgeois, and often affluent, but not sufficiently wealthy to be patrons of the grandes horizontales. Conversely, the lorettes’ favours were seldom exclusive. The men were known as “Arthurs.” According to Maurice Alhoy in Physiologie de la lorette (1841), “Arthur” was a name often used by men when they signed into a hotel where they did not want to be identified.

Lorettes appeared in magazine illustrations by artists such as Paul Gavarni. He often depicted them in languorous poses (since they did not work during the day), informally dressed, reading (they had some education), playing cards, or even (gasp) smoking.

Sometimes they were pictured in pairs, talking about their lives, such as this one with one girl in a bathtub.

Or this one, with one mocking the other for reading about “good women.”

When shown with their clients, the clients don’t necessarily look happy with the situation. In many illustrations and in fiction, lorettes were portrayed as gold-diggers, preoccupied with money and getting every franc they could out of the Arthurs.

The caption reads: “Les billets une fois pris, on n’en rendra pas la valeur.” In other words, Once the banknotes have been taken, one does not get their value back.

Why did they cluster in that particular quartier? In the mid-19th century, the area between the Gare St-Lazare and Montmartre was still largely under construction, known for its dust and grit. Those who first moved in were said to “essuyer les plâtres,” which means to live in accommodation in which the plaster was barely dry. (Modern homeowners living in houses made with drywall have no idea – why do you think it is called drywall?)

Property owners had difficulty finding respectable tenants to live in the resulting chaos and humidity and were prepared to offer the rooms at a modest rent to anyone prepared to keep the rooms heated and close the curtains while entertaining. Demand met supply. And so a quartier with a church named for the Madonna of the Holy House became a synonym for the good-time girls of the just-finished flats. Funny how these things work, isn’t it?

Text by Philippa Campsie, church with map and Gavarni images from Gallica, Tiepolo image from Useum, postcard from our collection.

*The fresco was on the ceiling of a Venetian church that was destroyed by an Austrian bombardment in 1915; only the preparatory study remains to show how it once looked.

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Edward Hopper in Paris

Norman and I were browsing in a second-hand bookshop recently, when I came across a book about the American artist Edward Hopper that included this illustration:

The caption read, “Stairway at 48, rue de Lille, Paris, 1906.” I shouldn’t have been surprised. Even though Hopper (1882–1967) is considered a quintessentially American painter, many artists of his generation spent at least some time in Paris honing their skills (I earlier wrote about Emily Carr’s experiences). But I had not known much about Hopper’s life, so I was pleased to learn that there were more than a hundred of his paintings and drawings from his time in Paris: one longish stay from 1906 to 1907, and two shorter visits in 1909 and 1910.

You can view many of Hopper’s Paris works on the website of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. You can even see a “virtual 360 exhibition” of his Paris paintings here.

The painting of the staircase is small, little more than 12 inches high and 9 inches wide. The very tight cropping, leaving out the lefthand wall, the top of the door and the rest of the landing (is this the top floor or is there a further flight of steps?) makes the illustration in the book look like a detail from a larger painting, but no, this is exactly what Hopper wanted to show us, no more and no less.

The iron banisters and the way they are attached to the floor of the landing, the curve of the stairs, the wooden handrail, the gloomy lower landing dimly seen…such familiar details, instantly recognizable. Staircases like this can still be found in many Paris buildings. I cannot identify the red object on the landing. It might be a box or a large suitcase. What are those markings on the side?

The text beside the image is a translated quotation from a book by Michel Boujot called Amours Américaines.

Pascale…had just discovered, in a work published in New York, that the American painter Edward Hopper had lived at 48, rue de Lille, during his first stay in Paris from the fall of 1906 to the spring of 1907 – in the building belonging to the Evangelical Baptist Church, which adjoined it. He had boarded with a widow.*

Hopper’s sojourn at the Evangelical Baptist Church was arranged through family connections. He stayed there again in 1909 (he stayed in a hotel during his brief 1910 visit to Paris). Hopper also painted the courtyard at 48, rue de Lille, both from ground level…

…and from higher up, perhaps from his own window.

Again, they are small images, tightly cropped, focusing on a few details and leaving others out.

The Baptist church and the building behind it are still there. The church dates from the 1870s. (Before that time, the Baptists in France, never very numerous, were often persecuted and did not build prominent churches like this one; religious freedoms expanded after the fall of the Second Empire.)

Hovering overhead using Google Earth, I can see that the courtyard is largely unchanged from Hopper’s time there. I expect the staircase is too.

The Paris works by Hopper shown on the Whitney website largely fall into two categories: landscapes and cityscapes without people, and people without much in the way of background. Only a few show people within the city.

The early landscapes are quite dark. This is just called “Bridge in Paris.” (It is the Pont Neuf.)

The later ones are brighter and lighter. This is “Les Lavoirs, Pont Royal.”

We shouldn’t read too much into that. It was apparently a dark, gloomy fall in 1906 and a bright spring and summer in 1907.

But the painting that grabbed my attention was this one, titled simply “Paris Street.”

Of course, being me, I wanted to know which street, but an online search of information about Hopper in Paris did not provide any clues. Nor did the books about Hopper in the library. So I decided to find out for myself.

The main clue was the presence of steps on the righthand side. Not many streets in Paris look like that. Another clue was the way in which the street comes to a T-junction in which two different buildings are visible.

I began by leafing through our huge book (more than 700 pages) of Charles Marville’s photographs. On my first pass, nothing quite fitted the specs, so I started again, peering at the images more closely, noting streets that might be candidates and hoping that the one I sought was not among those listed as “disparu.” In the section on the area of St-Séverin and the Place Maubert in the 5th arrondissement, a couple of photos looked promising. So I looked online for other photos of the area by other photographers.

I discovered that the rue des Anglais had a section in which there were steps, and had been photographed later by Eugene Atget, from a different angle.

It wasn’t exactly right, but I felt I was getting close.

So I took a walk on Google Street View and what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a street just around the corner, rue Domat (formerly rue du Plâtre), complete with the steps, the four-storey building on the left, the two facades in the junction, one set back a little relative to the other, and even a little balcony up high up on the right, which explained the black shape there in Hopper’s painting. The streetlights are new. The narrow street at the T-junction is the rue des Anglais.

Once I had the name of the street, I discovered other recognizable images of it online, by other artists and photographers. I’m surprised nobody else seems to have made the connection.

Judging by the images on the Whitney website, Hopper did very few street views like this, although he often painted bridges and major buildings. What was it about this particular scene that caught his eye, a good 25-minute walk from the rue de Lille? Perhaps it was the antiquity of the buildings. In a letter home, he wrote:

Paris…is a most paintable city…the streets are very old and narrow and many of the houses slope back from the top of the first story which gives them a most imposing and solid appearance. The wine shops or stores beneath are dark red or green, contrasting strongly with the plaster or stone above… The roofs are all of the Mansard type and either of grey slate or zinc. On a day that’s overcast, the same blue-grey permeates everything.**

You can see one of those sloping houses on the left in his painting, as well as buildings with dark red and dark green on the lower floors.

What else do we know about Hopper’s time in Paris?

He did not enrol in classes or rent a studio. He simply drew and painted what interested him in his surroundings, and visited galleries and salons to see the work of other painters. He socialized with other Americans, including fellow art students. He didn’t learn much French. He bought a camera and took photographs. Wherever he went, he sketched people, from theatre goers to soldiers to prostitutes.

He even had a couple of girlfriends. One was Enid Marion Saies, a young Englishwoman born in Wales who had come to Paris to study literature at the Sorbonne, and boarded with the same landlady on the rue de Lille. Hopper followed her back to the United Kingdom to meet her family, but she told him she had a French fiancé, and Hopper retreated in dismay. In the end, she didn’t marry the Frenchman; she married a Swede and went to live in Malmö.

The other was a Norwegian-American from Minnesota called Ragnhild Alta Hilsdale, whom Hopper had met in the United States before going to Paris. They corresponded while both of them were living in the city and for some years thereafter. Alta, as she was known, seems to have been a young woman of means, sent to Paris to learn French and discover French culture.

For much of his life, Hopper kept his friendship with Alta a secret, but her letters to Hopper were discovered in the attic of the Hopper house after his death and were published in 2013.

Most of Alta’s Paris letters are sent from 21, rue Jacob, and she describes her lodging as a “pension.” A 1907 copy of the Journal of Education and a Baedeker Guide from the same year place an international hall of residence for women students, known as Ruskin House, at that address. Today, it is a hotel.

Alta was a highly unsatisfactory correspondent. The earliest letter in the collection states flatly that she is “terrible about answering letters.” Her letters are full of excuses not to meet Hopper because she is too busy or has another engagement or simply because the weather is bad. In one letter she says:

I do wish you wouldn’t take everything so alarmingly seriously. It is most distressing. Certainly I might have spared you one evening this week – I might also have spared several other people one evening – and where would my evenings have been?***

I cannot warm to Alta. A portrait of her by Hopper depicts a dark-haired woman looking bored. She went on to marry an American and live in Los Angeles.

After leaving Paris in 1910, Hopper never returned. But he seems to have been deeply affected by his time there, and once said “It took me ten years to get over Europe”; he found the United States “crude and raw” by comparison.† At other times, he downplayed his time in Paris as an influence on his American paintings, and many art historians have done likewise. However, the late Richard R. Brettell, an American specialist in French art, claimed that Hopper’s time in Paris made him “essentially himself and… ‘American’.”†† Isn’t that what Paris has done for so many people – made them themselves?

“Pont des Arts,” Edward Hopper, 1907

Text by Philippa Campsie, Hopper paintings from Wikiart (public domain), photograph of Edward Hopper from Wikimedia Commons, Atget photograph from Gallica, painting of Alta Hilsdale from, contemporary street images from Google Street View.

*Quoted in Silent Places: A Tribute to Edward Hopper, fiction collected and introduced by Gail Levin (New York: Universe, 2000), p. 33.

** Quoted in Gail Levin, Edward Hopper: An Intimate Biography, updated edition (New York: Rizzoli, 2007 1998), p. 56.

*** Elizabeth Thompson Colleary (ed.), My dear Mr. Hopper (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013), p. 54.

† Gail Levin, Hopper’s Places, second edition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), p. 153.

†† Richard R. Brettell, “Comment Edward Hopper devint en France un peintre américain,” in Edward Hopper: Les années parisiennes 1906–1910 (Giverny: Musée Américain d’Art Giverny, 2004), p. 27.

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Paris Camino, part two

Here we are at the intersection of the rue St-Jacques and the boulevard Port-Royal (aka Carrefour de la Mort – our name for it; you won’t see it on the walls!), heading south. Once you have crossed the tricky intersection, the street name becomes rue du Faubourg St-Jacques. In crossing the intersection, you have crossed the site of one of the city’s former walls.

Look for a big blue door on the right. That is the old entrance to the Port Royal Maternity Hospital. The convent buildings with their cloister and garden are still there and still beautiful, although the maternity services are provided in a modern building. Note the plaque on the wall to the right of the door, facing the boulevard, indicating that in the First World War, one of the shells from the huge German cannon fell near this spot, killing 20 people in the hospital.

Further down the street, on the left, you will see the entrance to yet another hospital: the Cochin. I mentioned the Abbé Cochin last time. He would not recognize his own creation in this huge modern hospital, with its campus of buildings and internal streets taking up most of the block.

On the right, the rue Cassini reminds you that you are a stone’s throw from the Observatoire. The street is named for the 17th-century Italian-born astronomer Giovanni Domenico Cassini. The name lives on in Cassini’s laws of the rotation and orbit of the moon, an asteroid, a lunar crater, a Martian crater, and a space probe that orbited Saturn. That’s just a sample of things astronomical named for him.

Down a bit on the right you will see the entrance to the Hôtel de Massa. The gateposts bear the name “Société de Gens de Lettres,” an organization founded in a house on the Champs-Elysées by Honoré de Balzac, Victor Hugo, George Sand, Théophile Gautier, and Alexandre Dumas, among others. The house was dismantled stone by stone and rebuilt here in 1929. Now it is used as an event space as well as offices for France Festivals.

The day I wandered into the gates, I was told that the house was open only on Jours de Patrimoine, but that I was welcome to explore the gardens, which are large and attractive, and shady in summer. So I did.

The society’s website shows interior views of the building, filled with light. I could move in tomorrow.

On the other side of the street a bit farther down is the convent of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny, one of several surviving convents in this area that was once covered with monastic establishments. It is not open to the public, but if you go past it and look back from the Boulevard Arago, you can see its tall chapel over the high surrounding wall.

The boulevard Arago is also where the long wall on the right side of the street gives way to an iron fence and you can look in at the gardens of the Observatoire. This area is filled with walled gardens, and I have been known to go to great lengths to get a look at some of them. Sometimes you can go into a commercial building and look out its back windows into the garden. Occasionally a door is left open, in which case, we walk in (we can always apologize and retreat if we are challenged, but we will have seen something in the meantime), but so much is hidden and you’d need a drone to get a good view.

To the east down the boulevard Arago is the grim Prison de la Santé (the prison may not contribute to anyone’s health, but there was once a hospital here, hence the name), in front of which is the last remaining Vespasienne in Paris. You might or might not want to make a detour to see it.

Probably better to carry on down the route of St-Jacques. On the southeast corner is the Protestant Institute of Theology. Despite its dry-sounding name, it clearly employs some creative and whimsical people. Once we were passing with some friends and saw a sign on the door inviting us in. The little front garden inside the wall was filled with artwork made from found objects. We went inside to see more displays. In an interior courtyard the artists themselves were at work, drawing from a pile of random objects spread out on the ground. Protestant theologians have some delightful pastimes, it seems.

A short walk father on and the road opens out to a boulevard, here called the boulevard St-Jacques, with the Metro going down the middle. This is where line 6 emerges from underground on its journey east; later it heaves itself farther upwards and becomes an overhead line, with a great view of the surrounding streets. The old-fashioned entrance has Hector Guimard’s Art Nouveau typography on the signs.

To this point, I have walked a route I know by heart, since we take this route to the metro stop so often. In forging ahead, I need to consult the map and the reference books.

The first thing to note is another change in the name of the street, to the rue de la Tombe-d’Issoire, one of Paris’s odder street names. It supposedly commemorates the legend of a giant who was killed near here. Or not.

Jacques Hillairet, my go-to guy for Paris streets, says in his Dictionnaire Historique des Rues de Paris that according to one tradition, Issoire (or Ysoré) came from Coïmbre in Portugal sometime in the Middle Ages (dates differ), was 4.5 metres tall (more than 14 feet), and menaced the Parisians, brandishing an axe, and demanding one-to-one combat with a worthy opponent (sounds like Goliath). Not surprisingly, there were no takers. King Louis (Hillairet doesn’t know which one) called upon a former Crusader called William of Orange, who had taken up residence in a hermitage in the south of France. William was reluctant to leave the hermitage, and at first told the king’s messenger that William of Orange was dead in order to get him to go away. Presumably the messenger was persistent, because eventually, William caved in, blew the dust off his old armour, and trundled north. He met the giant on the field of battle, dispatched him with a blow to the throat, and cut off his head. After the victory, William trundled home again, slammed the door on his hermitage, and refused all further invitations to venture forth.

Hillairet, who is nothing if not thorough, provides other theories about the street name, none of them quite as colourful. He says that the whole tale may have been retrofitted to suit the occasion in the 13th century when a very large and very old tomb was discovered on the route to Orléans, a tomb that may have dated back to Roman times. Hillairet notes another tradition: that Ysoré was a fearsome bandit who was killed in a nearby quarry where he was hiding. And another that the name Issoire belongs to a Parisian family who owned something called the “fief de tombes.” Or maybe it commemorates a citizen called Isaure who was buried nearby. Take your pick.

The first part of the rue de la Tombe-d’Issoire is unremarkable. The domed church named for St-Dominique is reflected in the glass of the office building opposite. An overpass carries the RER line B2 between Denfert-Rochereau and the Cité Universitaire.

Cross the tree-shaded avenue René Coty, which runs south to the Reservoir Montsouris (which we will see from a different angle farther on) and the pretty Parc Montsouris. The road widens a bit, and here and there are the glimpses of countrified Paris that one often finds in the 14th, such as the little two-storey house tucked into the intersection of the rue de la Tombe-d’Issoire and the rue Bezout.

At number 69-71, an archway gives you a glimpse of a courtyard and interior street. Just beyond, a more modern building offers another glimpse of a garden beyond.

On the left, you will see the brick of an elementary school. For a while, this school was decorated with a huge sculpture of the giant Issoire, looking wary, as well he might.

He must have brightened this corner of the intersection with the rue d’Alésia. He’s gone now, alas.

The road continues, over a cobble-stoned section with narrow lanes leading off on the left. Many of these little private or semi-private streets are called “villas,” such as the Villa Hannibal and the Villa Seurat. On the latter, note the lovely Art Deco building on the corner. The huge north-facing windows indicate a studio within.

On our walks, I tend to detour down these streets, if they are not blocked off by a gate. There is always something to be seen.

Past the last of the apartment blocks on the left, the view over an ivy-covered wall provides a glimpse of the reservoir Montsouris. Finished in 1874, and one of five reservoirs serving the city, it might seem to be a purely utilitarian water holding tank. But a photograph of the interior shows a water palace.

The outside is also decorative. We took this photo from the other side on a walk around Montsouris.

It’s not unlike the 1930s-era water palace near us in Toronto, the R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant, which features a brass and marble interior and Art Deco stonework outside. People used to take pride in public works and make them beautiful.

Note the Wallace fountain in the courtyard just past the reservoir.

Past the playground is a very modern building on the left. This is the Jourdan campus of the Ecole Normale Supérieur / Paris Sciences et Lettres, a teacher training establishment. The school retains a historic building near the Panthéon. On the other side of the street is a recently completed student residence slashed diagonally by a long staircase. The windows have red coverings on the outside. I wonder how the residents raise and lower them. And whether anyone really uses the staircase.

Continue to the boulevard Jourdan, where trams glide by on tracks in a grassy right of way. Turn right. We’re nearly there.

The walk ends at the Porte d’Orléans Metro stop on the boulevard Jourdan. Traditionally, pilgrims left the city by the Porte d’Orléans. There’s a café on the corner where you can rest your feet.

Text and original photographs by Philippa Campsie; additional photographs from Google Street View and Wikimedia.

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Paris Camino

Paris is a city for walking – for tourists, for flâneurs, and also for pilgrims. For some, it is the conclusion of a pilgrimage. On the rue du Bac, you will see pilgrims from many countries entering the courtyard of the Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal. The Basilica of Sacré-Coeur is another destination for pilgrims.

For others, Paris can be the start of the Camino de Santiago, although only a small minority of those attempting the Camino start here nowadays. The route, known as the Via Turonensis, begins at the Tour St-Jacques in the centre of Paris…

…and leads through Orléans, Tours, Poitiers, and Bordeaux to the border with Spain.

It was a busy route in the Middle Ages, but today’s pilgrims (I’ve seen a few online accounts by some hardy souls) usually find it long and solitary, with the old ways overgrown or replaced by busy highways and a shortage of inexpensive overnight lodgings. It is not for the faint of heart.

But lots of people could manage the first part of the journey, setting out from the Tour St-Jacques and walking to the edge of the city, a distance of less than 5 kilometres, much of it along an old Roman way, through interesting neighbourhoods and past historic sites. Norman and I know much of the route by heart, because we have frequently rented an apartment on this route. So I thought I would walk it in my imagination with you, in anticipation of our next visit.

Join me at the Tour St-Jacques. During our early visits to Paris, this tower, the only remaining feature of the long-lost church St-Jacques de la Boucherie, was swathed in scaffolding and tarpaulins. It finally re-emerged in 2009. We’ve never been to the top, but we’ve often gazed at it as we wait for the No. 38 bus which stops on the Avenue Victoria in front.

Take the rue St-Martin towards the river and cross the Seine to the Ile de la Cité by the Pont Notre-Dame (once known as the Grand Pont). Continue to the Left Bank by the Petit Pont. Both bridges date from the 19th century, but there has been a river crossing here at the island since Paris was called Lutetia.

At first, the road south is called rue du Petit Pont. This is what it looked like when Eugene Atget photographed it in 1906. Note the Vespasienne on the left, a superior model with a lamp on top.

The year after Atget took this photo, this road was enlarged and the buildings on the left, which formed part of the hospital complex of the Hotel Dieu, were removed (along with the Vespasienne). Today there is a park where they once stood. But several buildings on the right are recognizable from the older photo.

The rue du Petit-Pont continues for a couple of blocks, and then becomes the rue St-Jacques. The street has had many names over the years, but it derived its current name indirectly from the pilgrimage route. It was once a Roman road called the Via Superior, and then became the Grande Rue du Petit Pont in the 12th century. In the 13th century, an order of Dominican monks opened a hospice for pilgrims not far from where the Panthéon is now, named for St-Jacques (because that’s where the pilgrims were going). Several centuries after that, the street took the name St-Jacques.

Where the street changes its name, you will see the back of the church of St-Severin. It is named for a hermit who lived on or near this spot in the 5th century (his saint’s day is November 27). It may seem odd to live the life of a hermit in the middle of a city, rather than out in the desert, but cities have one big advantage – passersby who give alms or food to the walled-up hermit (there was always a window to allow for these donations). In return, the hermit offered prayers for the passersby.

Severin was far from the only one to wall himself up this way. There was a long tradition of recluses in Paris, living a solitary life in tiny reclusoirs, many if not most of them women (in English they were known as anchorites or anchoresses). Some lived in cells adjoining a church so they could be part of the services; others lived in tiny structures on bridges or even in cemeteries.

Here is an etching of St-Severin looking west from the rue St-Jacques by Caroline Armington.

At the corner with the rue de la Parcheminerie (the street of the parchment makers) is a stripy brick building, an elementary school. Paris schools always seem to be built in brick, rather than stone. There is probably a reason for that. It certainly makes them easy to recognize.

At the next intersection is the boulevard St-Germain. An impressive building with a dome on the far corner includes a shop on the ground floor selling bandes-dessinés – hardcover, full-colour, graphic novels of adventure and action. Very French.

At the intersection with the rue du Sommerard, you may see a bookshop on the south side of the cross street on the right. It used to be called Pippa (the same as my family nickname), but now goes by La Librairie des Editeurs Indépendants. I hope it survived the pandemic. This is a picture we took in the winter of 2010.

At the end of the rue du Sommerard, you can see the back of the Musée Cluny.

I am quite sure that Au Vieux Campeur on the corner has survived the pandemic. The store for all things outdoorsy is spread over half a dozen or more premises in this area. We have bought everything from clothing to a mosquito net (long story) in various branches of the store.

Carry on and you will be deep in academic territory. At the corner of the rue des Ecoles on the left is the Collège de France. This is not a teaching institution, but a research establishment filled with laboratories and libraries, although faculty members do give public lectures from time to time. Many Nobel prize winners have worked here. This image from our postcard collection shows a bronze statue of a thoughtful physiologist Claude Bernard. That statue was melted down during the Second World War, and replaced with a stone statue in a different pose after the war.

As you continue south, on the right side is the back of the Sorbonne, crowned by a tall observatory tower with a clock. I once sat on uncomfortable benches in the Sorbonne to listen to really good lectures. I remember emerging from a lecture on symbolism in 19th-century literature so distracted by my thoughts that I was nearly run over by a car in the parking lot. Opposite the Sorbonne, on the left side of rue St-Jacques is the Lycée Louis Le Grand, known for its illustrious alumni, from Victor Hugo to Edgar Degas to André Citroen. It’s an imposing building, too much to take in, but Norman once captured a photo of one of the chimneys with the school monogram in the setting sun.

The next block has the law faculty on the left and then you emerge into the rue Soufflot with the Panthéon to your left and a view of the Jardin du Luxembourg and even the Eiffel Tower in the distance on the right. On June 22 past, there was a special event at the Panthéon for the 70th anniversary of the burial of Louis Braille there and the 170th anniversary of his death. It was preceded by a short conference at the Institut National des Jeunes Aveugles, and yours truly contributed a brief recorded talk on Louis Braille and Charles Barbier. I was hugely chuffed to be included.

The next few blocks are filled with eateries and shops, including one of our favourite restaurants, Au Port de Salut (many happy memories). As the road approaches the rue Gay-Lussac, you will see two university institutes: geography and oceanography. Here is geography.

I remember the first time we went past. What a contrast with the department of geography at the University of Toronto, which is housed on one floor of a 1960s-era building. Sigh.

Oceanography, also called the Maison de l’Océan, has a tower and a bronze octopus above the doorway.

Inside are murals of sailing ships in its lecture hall, although the low-backed benches, despite the padding, don’t look much more comfortable than those at the Sorbonne.

Another clock tower looms up on the right, the church of St-Jacques des Haut Pas. Another link to St-Jacques. “Haut Pas” refers to the location in Italy (Altopascio or High Pass) where the monks who first settled here in the 12th century came from. The photograph below, taken by Norman, is from the south, so the tower appears on the left.

In the 18th century, the parish priest was Jean-Denis Cochin, who founded a hospital for poor workers, many of whom were injured working in quarries. That foundation went on to become the vast Hôpital Cochin, a general hospital, which lies farther up the road.

The next street is named for the Abbé de l’Epée, another benefactor of those in need. On the far side of the intersection, on the right, is the school he founded, the Institut National des Jeunes Sourds, a school for students who are deaf. It has a huge formal garden, hidden behind a wall. The Abbé de l’Epée noticed that when students arrived from various parts of France, they already used their own diverse forms of sign language. He observed them and developed a common language for use at the school. The Abbé was honoured in 2018 with his own Google Doodle (now that’s fame).

The road bends to the left as it passes the school, and continues past some modern apartment blocks and crosses the rue des Feuillantines. As you cross the street, look left and where you see a tree sticking out, that is the childhood home (or rather, one of the childhood homes) of Victor Hugo. That massive block in the distance is a modern lycée.

The road bends again, this time to the right, and passes the Schola Cantorum, a private music conservatory established in a former convent. The conservatory specializes in early music, in particular the singing of Gregorian chant, Renaissance polyphony, and Baroque music. One of its students was Joseph Canteloube, who collected and arranged folksongs from the Auvergne. My CD of those songs (the singer is Kiri Te Kanawa) gets a lot of use; when you listen, you are transported to the clear air of the hill country.

The street widens out into a square in front of the Val de Grace. We have written about this beautiful space before and I never cease to be amazed at how few people visit it. On our last visit, in January 2020, I took this picture of it from the boulevard the night before we flew home, never thinking how long it would be before we returned.

By this point, as we are nearing our rented apartment, we are into the home stretch. Past our favourite crêperie (Pomme d’Amour), the offices of the Parti Socialiste, the antique shop that is almost never open, Picard (great ice cream), the Carrefour Express and the convenience store opposite (for when we run out of something essential), the butcher, the baker (both excellent), and out onto the Boulevard Port-Royal.

A friend calls this the Carrefour de la Mort, partly because there are so many funeral parlours in the area and partly because the traffic is confusing (two lanes of east-west traffic for cars followed by two lanes going east and west for buses and bicycles). We have also written about this place before

I see I have gone on long enough for now, so I will conclude this tour next time.

Text by Philippa Campsie, photographs by Norman Ball and Philippa Campsie, Atget photograph from Gallica, additional images from Wikimedia Commons and Google Street View.

Posted in Charles Barbier, Paris churches, Paris history, Paris hospitals, Paris streets | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Reviving the charms of the concert-promenade

If you are in Paris today, May 29, you might want to wander in the Jardin de Ranelagh between four and five in the afternoon, where you will be serenaded by a baroque ensemble in the kiosque à musique. If you cannot make it that day, there is a list at the bottom of this blog of Sunday concerts-promenades in similar kiosques taking place in the city throughout the summer.

There is a story behind these concerts and behind the kiosques themselves. There is always a story.

Let’s start with the kiosques. (In English, we call them bandstands, which sounds rather military, and the bands that once played in them in England often were.)

The Jardin de Ranelagh was created in 1774, its name borrowed from a successful pleasure garden founded on property owned by Lord Ranelagh (the name is Irish) in Chelsea, London. It was located outside the western limit of Paris at the time, and in its early days, it was frequented by none other than Marie-Antoinette, who had a pied-à-terre nearby.

The kiosque à musique at Ranelagh, likely the first in the area, was constructed in the 19th century. It looked like this:

What is there now is a replacement, the wooden version having long since crumbled.

The idea of an outdoor music pavilion caught on, and over the 19th century, kiosques were constructed in many parks in Paris and in other French cities. Adolphe Alphand, the architect of much of Paris’s park design and park furniture, gave them his endorsement by including images in his massive book Les Promenades de Paris. Here is his design (shown in a cut-away view on the right side) for one in the Bois de Vincennes:

The balustrade and the latticework are similar to the original Ranelagh kiosque, but Alphand goes one better with a little topknot. Alphand also created a festive version for the Champs-Elysées.

This one, too, has been replaced by a newer version, but the replacement is a little closer to its 19th-century incarnation.

More than 30 kiosques were built in Paris. Artists such as Raoul Dufy painted them; he called this painting Dimanche (Sunday), because the kiosques came alive on Sunday afternoons.

Many fell into disuse after the First World War, but have gradually revived in the 21st century, particularly as venues for the annual Fête de la Musique. Here is a picture we took of the very large kiosque in the Jardin du Luxembourg in 2014, with dancers in period costume.

In 2016, the city repaired and renovated 33 kiosques, adding electrical outlets and improving lighting and safety.

Then came the pandemic.

Our friend Mary Ann Warrick, who lives near the Jardin du Ranelagh (which is crossed by a boulevard called Chausée de la Muette), kept noticing the kiosque and wondering why it was so seldom animated, particularly when other outdoor venues were being used for gatherings that could not take place indoors. She wrote to the mayor of the 16th arrondissement in 2020, remarking that it was a pity that the kiosque near La Muette was so often muet (silent).

Mary Ann, who originally came to Paris to study mime and settled there permanently, knew many musicians who might be willing to perform in the kiosque. Since 1999, she has hosted chamber concerts in her own drawing room, making use of her splendid Steinway grand. Norman and I have been lucky enough to attend several of these “Chez Nous” concerts.

When the pandemic struck, Mary Ann maintained her commitment to the musicians by recording and broadcasting concerts from an otherwise empty drawing room, calling them Chez Nous/Chez Vous. Two of these online concerts have inspired blogs (one about bells, the other about Camille Moke, a largely forgotten pianist).

She was preparing for a Christmas concert in December 2021, when she learned that the City of Paris was calling for proposals to animate the kiosques in 2022. The deadline was December 27. Her first reaction was, understandably, “No way.” There was not enough time to prepare a proposal.

But gradually she began to change her mind. She already had an extensive mailing list of musicians who might participate. And the idea of bringing together musicians and audiences in a safe and open space made so much sense. But she couldn’t restrict it just to the local kiosque. It would need to involve other kiosques in other parks.

But not just any kiosque. Mary Ann considered the range of options and eventually chose a dozen locations, all kiosques of similar size (45 square metres) and proportions, all of them on the Right Bank. Willing musicians volunteered for these venues and the proposal came together.

It was a leap of faith. There was no money, because the project had to be approved before she could approach funders. But it was selected, along with others, for a summer-long program of open-air performances. She put together a bare-bones budget, reckoned she could cover expenses for the first few, and launched the series on May 8 in the Square Maurice Kriegel Valrimont in the 18th arrondissement with a concert for harp and violin.

A second took place on May 15 in the Square des Epinettes in the 17th, with a violin and guitar duo:

Mary Ann’s sister, Becky Barbier of Barbier Design, created a lovely logo for the series.

The concerts are not without challenges. Weather is an obvious problem. In one of the first two concerts, the gardiens in the park informed Mary Ann that a huge storm was on its way and said they would have to close the park. Hoping to avoid the storm, she started the concert early. The storm held off, but people who had missed the beginning by arriving at 4 p.m. were disconcerted. The musicians good-naturedly replayed the first part of the concert to keep everyone happy. (The rain finally descended at 9 p.m.)

Acoustics in the open air are another challenge, especially on windy days. But at least on Sundays, the city is quieter, with less traffic. Small children with water pistols are another hazard. And kiosques have no backstage area. Mary Ann and the musicians must bring everything that is required, except for the chairs. These are provided by the park and the audience can place them wherever they like.

The response has been enthusiastic. Free live music in a park draws in people who might not enter a conventional concert venue and lets them get close to the musicians. And the performers get to reach new audiences. They include classical, folk, and popular musicians and even some dancers.

We hope to get to one of the concerts-promenades later in the year (the series continues into October). In the meantime, we will have to content ourselves with the offerings in our local Toronto park, in the bandstand there.

But from now on, I will think of it as a kiosque à musique.

If you would like to contribute to the concerts, you can become a member of Productions Chez Nous, 39 boulevard Suchet, Paris 75016. More information is available on the organization’s Facebook page.

Here is the list of the next concerts in the series. Do please spread the word.

  • June 12 – Kiosque du Square d’Anvers-Jean-Claude Carrière, Paris 9 (« Improvisible »: music and dance improvisations)
  • June 26 – Kiosque du Jardin de Ranelagh, Paris 16 (The Pierre-Michel Sivadier Trio, a world premiere performance)
  • July 10 – Kiosque du Square des Carpeaux, Paris 18 (« Two Sisters/Two Violins »: Dhyani et Susila Heath)
  • July 24 – Kiosque du Square Paul Robin, Paris 18 (Galina Lanskaïa, violinist, light music from the classical repertoire)
  • August 7 – Kiosque Jules Ferry, Paris 11 (Thibaut Reznicek, free-style cello, in partnership with 1001 Notes)
  • August 21 – Kiosque du Jardin Villemin, Paris 10 (The Dhrupad Ensemble, traditional music of Northern India, Jérôme Cormier & Co.)
  • September 4 – Kiosque du Jardin des Champs-Elysées, Paris 8 (L’Heure bleue: Women’s vocal trio, popular tunes and some old favourites)
  • September 18 – Kiosque du Square du Temple Elie Wiesel, Paris Centre (Iéna & Co., violin & guitar vocal duo: folk music that rocks)
  • October 2 – Kiosque du Square Trousseau, Paris 12 (Ensemble instrumental Charles Koechlin: wind quintet, classical and contemporary works)
  • October 9 – Kiosque du Square Courteline, Paris 12 (The Double-Bec Trio/ oboe, oboe d’amore and bassoon: music as light as air)

Text by Philippa Campsie, based on an interview with Mary Ann Warrick. Contemporary photographs by Philippa Campsie and Mary Ann Warrick, with additional images from Wikipedia and historical images from Gallica.

Posted in Paris music, Paris parks | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Passage St-Pierre

We found this 1913 etching of the Passage St-Pierre by Caroline Armington in the Earls Court Gallery in Hamilton, Ontario, on St. Patrick’s Day in March.

If you look up “Passage St-Pierre” in the index of a modern map of Paris, you will find the Passage St-Pierre-Amelot in the 11th arrondissement. I took a quick look on Google Street View. Nope, that wasn’t it.

So I hauled out the massive, two-volume Dictionnaire Historique des Rues de Paris by Jacques Hillairet – an early pandemic purchase I have never regretted. The back of each volume lists streets that have been renamed or have disappeared. The Passage St-Pierre is in the latter category, “absorbed by the rue Neuve St-Pierre and the rue de l’Hôtel St-Paul.” I wasn’t sure at first what “absorbed” meant.

Hillairet notes that the narrow passage, which dated from the mid 1600s, was created to connect the rue St-Paul with a cemetery behind the church of St. Paul. Later, the passage was extended at a right angle to the original stretch, to connect to the rue St-Antoine.

The Turgot map from before the Revolution shows the church, and the cemetery behind it. The passage went up the north side of the church and then turned to connect with the rue St-Antoine. I have indicated it here in red.

Here is a picture of the church. It was known as St-Paul-des-Champs, but was demolished in the 1790s after having been damaged in the early years of the Revolution. The image below is an impression of how it once looked, created in the 19th century.

Its name was transferred to the nearby church of St-Louis, which is now called the Eglise St-Paul St-Louis.

I wondered why a passage that flanked the church of St-Paul should be called St-Pierre. The Paris Dictionnaire du Nom des Rues provided two theories: (1) there was a statue of St. Peter in the passage and (2) the passage led to a graveyard, so the name evokes the person who is reputed to welcome the dead at the Pearly Gates: St. Peter.

A search on Gallica produced three turn-of-the-century photographs of the passage by Atget. The first, taken in 1899, shows the same archway as the Armington etching, the same building with the diagonal drainpipe, even the word “Pharmacie” painted on the wall to the left of the archway, but Atget’s photo is taken from farther back, showing more of the passage.

The next, date unknown, is taken from a different angle. The building with the drainpipe is clear, but the arch is obscured. However, the catalogue entry with this version noted that the passage led to the Cemetery of Saint Paul, where Rabelais, Mansart, and the Man in the Iron Mask were once buried. Interesting. The church’s cemetery was one of the oldest in Paris, and because it was so close to the Bastille, prisoners who died there (including the Man in the Iron Mask) were buried here.

The third, taken in about 1900, shows a completely different view but includes several businesses that had been established in the passage. Note the child on the left.

A close-up of the final photograph shows a ghostly female figure in the background, the entrance to a lavoir (wash-house) at the far end, and a wine shop sign, as well as some articles displayed for sale. Is that a face in the upper window?

When these photographs were taken, the church was long gone. But a vestige of the tower remains to this day, just off the rue St-Paul, visible on Google Street View.

Some years ago, when Norman and I rented an apartment on the nearby rue Charlemagne, we passed this spot often. At the bottom of the tower was a single-storey shop called “Geb’s” that sold linens (today it is a pizzeria). Although we never went in, we could see through the window the entrance to a spiral staircase that might once have led to the top of the tower. We always wondered what this extremely high wall had been. Now we know.

Opposite that spot, you can also see an archway leading nowhere at the intersection of the rue St-Paul and the rue Neuve St-Pierre. Was it once part of the entrance to the passage? Probably not. But here is an image from Hillairet of the Passage St-Pierre, with a vaguely similar-looking archway. Perhaps the newer one was intended to evoke the lost passage.

In 1912, the street now known as the rue Neuve St-Pierre was created by widening the old Passage St-Pierre and extending it all the way to the rue Beautreillis. The bit that connected with the rue St-Antoine was also widened to become the rue de l’Hôtel St-Paul. This is what Hillairet meant by “absorbed”: the old passage remained a right-of-way, but was widened and changed beyond recognition. The cemetery was closed, presumably emptied of its contents, and an elementary school for boys was created on the site.

Our etching is dated 1913, a year after this change, so Caroline Armington must have created her image using earlier sketches or photographs.

She was born in 1875 in Brampton, Ontario, which at the time was a village on the outskirts of Toronto (it is now a sizable city). Her father had a farm implement business there. Caroline’s parents did not support her ambition to be an artist, so she self-funded her training as a painter by working as a nurse. First, she went to New York, still working as a nurse, but studying and painting in her spare time. She then travelled to Paris in 1900, where she married Frank Armington, a fellow artist she had met in Canada.

They worked for a few years in Canada before returning to Paris in 1905. Caroline took further art instruction at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière and the Académie Julian and began to produce etchings that were favourably received. During the First World War, both she and her husband worked for the American Ambulance Field Service. When the war ended, they remained in France, although they returned to Canada and the United States for visits and tours as their paintings and etchings became increasingly popular.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, the couple left Europe for New York; Caroline died a few days after her arrival, having suffered a heart attack before the trip, brought on by an air-raid siren. According to the Dictionary of Canadian Biography:

Her conventional lifestyle, her prolonged absence from Canada, and her work, sometimes considered old-fashioned when viewed against the modernist paradigm, have made her lesser known in her country of birth than she has been in the United States and France.

But that’s not the whole story. Few of her papers survive, and the explanation can be found on the website of the archives of the Region of Peel (where her birthplace of Brampton is located):

When Caroline died in 1939, Frank remarried. He died soon after, in 1941. His second wife and step-daughter moved in 1943, and destroyed the majority of the couple’s papers and photographs.

Oh dear. However, the works of both artists, Caroline and Frank, are still available to see and enjoy, as we will enjoy the etching that started this whole exploration. It now hangs on the wall of my study, between the door and a bookcase, at eye level, where I can look into it an imagine a whole world.

Text by Philippa Campsie, images from Gallica, Google Street View, Peel Archives.

Posted in Paris art, Paris churches, Paris streets | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

Saving Mary

Amid the oceans of heart-breaking news that surrounded us in March 2022, there was some good news from a French village called, appropriately, Island, in the department of the Yonne in Burgundy–Franche-Comté.

About 180 people live in the village, which is roughly halfway between Avallon to the east, where there is a railway station and a market, and Vézelay to the west, the walled hill town and pilgrimage site.

The village church is called St-Bénigne (in English, Saint Benignus), after a third-century missionary and martyr believed to be buried in Dijon (the cathedral there is also named for him). The first church on the site was built in the 12th century; the structure was rebuilt at least in part in the 16th century. It’s a lovely place on a hill outside the village, surrounded by a small graveyard, but it is no longer in regular use as a church. Once a year, in the summer, it is opened for a mass, and many local families attend this special event.

Our friends Patrice and Noëlle were among them in July 2017. Patrice used to be a restoration architect and Noëlle is a retired museum curator who trained at the school of the Louvre. They live nearby and were understandably curious to see the interior of the church.

There was a high altar of elaborately carved wood into which oil paintings of Christ and three saints were inset.

In front of the traditional high altar is a freestanding modern altar made of massive pieces of wood, sculpted from an oak that once stood in the park of the nearby castle.

In the following photograph, taken from between the high altar and the freestanding altar, you can just make out two large paintings on either side of the nave beyond the archway.

One is a depiction of the martyrdom of St-Bénigne, the other of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. (According to tradition, the Virgin Mary was taken up – “assumed” – into heaven when she died, rather than being buried on earth.)

It is a lovely image. Mary is plump, with the pleasant round face of a farm wife. Around her, cherubs tumble in the clouds like children playing in the waves at the beach. But the painting is in very poor condition. You can see the holes in the canvas and the mouldy varnish at the bottom.

The painting dates from the 17th century, from the reign of Louis XIV. It was his father Louis XIII (1601–1643) who established August 15 as the feast day of the Assumption of Mary, to be celebrated with processions and prayers for the birth of a male heir to the king. And indeed, in 1638, after 23 years of marriage, Louis and his wife, Anne of Austria, had the child who grew up to be the Sun King. (The Val de Grace in Paris was Anne’s thank-you gift for this longed-for child.)

Patrice and Noëlle have suggested that the painting may date from 1646, the time of the first Vicar General of Island, a prominent cleric called Charles Trinquart d’Etampes. He had been an adviser to Louis XIII and supported the royal couple’s devotion to Mary and the celebration of the Assumption. He may have commissioned a local painter who used local models for the image.

Patrice and Noëlle went back the following year for the annual mass and Patrice spoke to Paule Buffy, the mayor of Island, about the need to restore the damaged paintings. In conversations with friends, Patrice and Noëlle formed the beginnings of a plan. A knowledgeable colleague estimated that each of the big paintings would take about 20,000 euros to restore properly. Fundraising efforts would need to draw in people far beyond the 180 residents of the village. To allow for donations, Patrice established an association called Vivre Island and began to sell memberships in the association to start raising money.

Later that year, Patrice also talked with representatives of a foundation called “Sauvegarde de l’Art Français,” which supports the restoration of art throughout France, including rural areas.

In August 2019, Patrice and Noëlle launched the first of a series of fundraising concerts, with a performance by two members of the baroque ensemble La Voilotte. They sold 86 tickets at 10 euros each. The mayor was astonished to see village residents she had not previously met, coming to enjoy the concert and support the cause.

The pandemic put a dent in the plans, but throughout 2020, the association continued to sell memberships and managed an outdoor cinema presentation in the summer that raised money. Events in the church restarted in summer 2021, with readings and further concerts. By the end of the year, the association had collected about 6,000 euros.

Then, in January 2022, Sauvegarde de l’Art Français informed the association that there was to be a competition for funding, sponsored by the insurer Allianz. In each region of France, three artworks would be nominated, each in need of restoration.* The winner would be chosen by email voting. The prize for the winner with the most votes in each region would be 8,000 euros.

In Burgundy–Franche-Comté, the three works were (1) a badly damaged statue of Bérénice in the museum of Baron Martin in Gray, a town of about 5,400 people 50 km east of Dijon; (2) a reliquary in Saint-Firmin, a village with 840 inhabitants about 100 km southeast of Island; and (3) the painting at Island. Here are the images from the contest website.

Voting took place between February 10 and March 10, 2022. All that was required to vote was a valid email address, and we immediately voted when Patrice and Noëlle told us about it. Patrice and Noëlle sent messages to all their friends and acquaintances and distributed flyers in Avallon.

From the outset, the competition was between Bérénice and the Assumption. Poor St-Firmin barely got a look in. At first, Island gained the greatest number of votes and it held onto the lead for most of the month. But on the very last day of the competition, we got an email from Patrice, sent to a long list of friends and supporters: “Aïe, on perd !” (Help, we’re losing!) The vote would close at midnight in France and Island was about 30 votes behind. It was then mid afternoon in France. But it was morning in Toronto.

Like everyone else on that list, we imagine, Norman and I mobilized to get out the vote. We wrote to family in Canada, in England, in the United States, in Austria. We wrote to friends near and far. A French friend in the history department at the University of Toronto promised to alert her colleagues.

Presumably, the folks in Gray were doing something similar, using their Facebook page and other networks. As the votes for the Assumption inched up, so did the votes for Bérénice. But as afternoon turned to evening in France, and morning turned to afternoon in Toronto, suddenly Island began to regain the lead. As I discovered when I pressed “Refresh” a couple of times on the website, new votes were being registered almost every minute. Of the 3,332 votes that Island earned to win the competition, almost a third came in that last day.

Norman and I celebrated in the evening and raised a toast to the Assumption of the Virgin and her unknown leagues of supporters. It felt like the only good news we’d had in weeks. In the space of a month, the association had more than doubled its funds and moved closer to the amount needed for restoration. The campaign to save Mary is far from over, but it has advanced considerably.

For more information, contact VIVRE ISLAND, 12 rue de l’Église, 89200 Island, France, or

Text by Philippa Campsie with information provided by Noëlle and Patrice Roy, maps from Gallica, photographs by Patrice Roy.

*Of the three artworks nominated in the Ile de France, the Paris entry was the Plancher de Jeannot, which we wrote about here. It did not win.

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Madame Mozart dies in Paris

When, a few weeks ago, a broadcaster mentioned that Mozart’s mother had died in Paris in 1778, my first thought was: I don’t even know her name! I knew about Wolfgang Amadeus, his hard-driving father Leopold, his gifted sister Nannerl, his long-suffering wife Constanza, all familiar names, but I didn’t know his mother’s name. It’s Anna Maria (although in some biographies, she is called Maria Anna). Her maiden name was Pertl and she was born near Salzburg in 1720.

Wolfgang Amadeus was her seventh child, born in 1756, but only the second to survive infancy, after Nannerl, five years Wolfgang’s senior. When the boy’s extraordinary talent declared itself early, Leopold was quick off the mark to showcase it. In 1762, when Wolfgang was six, the whole family, plus a servant, embarked on a tour. The children performed in Passau, Linz, and Vienna, but after impressing the royal family at the Schönbrunn Palace, Wolfgang fell ill. It was no doubt a relief to him to have his mother nearby. Leopold fretted about money; Anna Maria fretted about her son.

When Wolfgang recovered, the family embarked on a more ambitious tour that began in 1763 and would continue for three and a half years. The children performed in 88 cities and towns. Once again, the whole family travelled together. Madame Mozart had to put up with bumpy carriages and frequent breakdowns, constant changes in lodgings, inclement weather, the stormy moods of her husband, and the care of two precocious children, but we’ll never know much about it. As one Mozart biographer noted, “Leopold kept up a steady stream of letters to [his landlord and financial backer] Hagenauer…[but] there is barely a word in his letters about his wife.”*

We do, however, have one detail. On tour, Madame Mozart and Nannerl shared a bed, and Leopold and Wolfgang shared another.

The family reached Paris in November 1763. But a picture of “the Mozart family” shows three people only: Leopold, Wolfgang and Nannerl. Hmph.

The family lodged with Count van Eyck of Bavaria in the Hôtel de Beauvais on the rue François Miron in the Marais (the building is now the administrative court of appeal). Leopold was pleased about saving money on hotel bills. The children performed at Versailles for King Louis XV and his wife. The queen spoke fluent German and made the family feel welcome.

Both Wolfgang and Nannerl fell ill in Paris, adding to the strain on Madame Mozart, but they recovered and went on to London, crossing the Channel in a small boat with a fraction of their voluminous luggage (the rest stayed in Paris). All four were seasick. The family ended up staying in England for more than a year. They went to The Hague in July 1765, and there, in September, Nannerl became so ill that the doctors told Madame Mozart to prepare for the worst. A priest was summoned to administer the last rites. Anna Maria and Leopold took it in turns to watch over their daughter.

But Nannerl recovered. In December it was Wolfgang’s turn to sicken and hover for some days at death’s door, unable to walk or to speak. Eventually he recovered, too. Biographers suggest that it may have been typhoid fever that afflicted the children. By the end of January, they were back on stage. The show must go on. Leopold insisted.

Since Leopold rarely mentioned Anna Maria, it is possible she, too, had periods of illness, but we’ll never know. Or possibly she had a strong constitution and just carried on.

The family returned to Paris in May 1766 and spent two months there before touring through cities in France, Switzerland, and Germany. When they returned home to Salzburg, friends noticed that 10-year-old Wolfgang had grown very little during his time away. The travelling and the illness had taken a toll.

A planned concert in Vienna was cancelled when the Emperor Franz died and the court was plunged into mourning. Then a smallpox epidemic broke out, affecting both the royal family and the Mozarts. When the children finally performed before the widowed, black-clad Empress Maria Theresa (Marie Antoinette’s mother, shown below), the Empress and Madame Mozart held hands and talked about their children.

Between 1769 and 1772, Leopold and Wolfgang made three trips to Italy, leaving Madame Mozart and the teenaged Nannerl in Salzburg. I suspect the two women were relieved to have some time to themselves.

When father and son returned, the whole family moved into a more spacious house and actually stayed in it for two and a half years. Leopold, after all, was employed by the Archbishop of Salzburg and had duties to perform. And when a patient and supportive archbishop died and was replaced by a stern, non-nonsense cleric, Leopold’s freedom to come and go was curtailed.

This caused a dilemma. Wolfgang needed to be out in the world, not in a provincial city. He was 21 and it was time for him to find a permanent job to support himself. Leopold could not leave Salzburg, and he wasn’t sure that Wolfgang could manage the logistics of travel, music-making, and job-hunting, so the task of accompanying him on the next trip fell to Anna Maria.

Off they went on 23 September 1777. Leopold did his best to micromanage from a distance, sending dozens of letters with instructions and advice. Visit this person. Play such-and-such for so-and-so. Make sure the hotel servant uses boot-trees. They travelled via Augsburg and spent time in Mannheim, where Mozart acquired a girlfriend (the sister of the woman he later married), but not a job.

In March 1778, they continued to Paris. At first, they lodged in a gloomy space in the rue Bourg l’Abbé over the premises of a German-born “fripier” (bric-a-brac merchant).

Wolfgang was not happy. He missed his girlfriend, the streets were filthy, hired carriages were expensive, people were unwelcoming, and he struggled with the language. Madame Mozart spoke no French at all. And she didn’t like the food.

The two eventually found better lodgings at 8 rue du Sentier (shown as rue Centier in the Turgot map below) in what is now the 2eme arrondissement. The premises are now called Maison Mozart and there is a plaque on the wall. As the weather warmed up, life improved and Madame Mozart wrote to Nannerl about Paris fashions. Wolfgang had a few students, some new friends, and a job offer as an organist that he turned down.

But in June 1778, Madame Mozart fell ill, with a fever and a headache. She wrote to her husband about having a sore throat and earache. Leopold responded with Useful Advice (have a doctor bleed you). She did and it made her feel worse. So she stopped talking about how she felt. Her final letter is filled with cheery descriptions of Paris and a brief mention of being tired after visiting the picture gallery at the Luxembourg Gardens.

Madame Mozart was reluctant to have a French doctor see her. She may also have been worried about the expense of a doctor (Leopold was forever harping on about money and expenses). Wolfgang located a German doctor, who treated her with “rhubarb powder in wine.”**

On June 30, last rites were administered and Anna Maria Mozart died on the evening of July 3. Again, the disease may have been typhoid fever. As one biographer notes, “Water may have been the culprit; the Parisians never drank it, but the Mozarts had done so, unsuspectingly, wherever they were.”*** The very next day, she was buried at the church of St-Eustache, which at the time had a churchyard (it has since disappeared, but she is commemorated on a plaque inside the church).

Oddly, Mozart wrote to his father immediately after his mother’s death to say that she was ill, but not that she had died. He wrote another letter to a friend, telling the truth, and asking the friend to prepare Leopold and Nannerl for bad news. About a week later, he finally broke the news to his father. When Leopold wrote back, blaming Wolfgang for her death, Mozart stopped writing for a while.

The Mozarts were a complicated family. They were close, but often at odds. Leopold controlled his children’s lives so rigidly that his son never developed the skills he needed for seeking and retaining steady work. And far too little is known of the woman who held the family together and looked out for the children’s welfare, nursing them through their illnesses, and probably keeping their lives moderately sane during unbelievably prolonged and stressful travels.

When we are next in Paris, I shall stop by St Eustache and pay my respects to Madame Mozart. And I shall address her by name.

* John Suchet, Mozart: The Man Revealed (New York, Pegasus Books, 2017), p. 31.

** Stanley Sadie, Mozart: The Early Years, 1756-1781 (New York: Norton, 2006), p. 459.

*** Roye E. Wates, Mozart: An Introduction to the Music, the Man, and the Myths (Milwaukee: Amadeus Press, 2010), p. 107.

Text by Philippa Campsie, postcard from our collection, other images from Wikimedia and Google Street View.

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The writing on the wall, part two

After posting the last blog, I had a nagging feeling that there was a question I had not answered and a connection I had not made.

I found the question by looking at the images again. It was that date: le 29 juillet 1881. The date of the law that bans posters on certain walls. I’ve seen it time without number, in various forms (the one below was so large I couldn’t capture it in a single photo), but what does it mean? The answer surprised me.

The law in question actually concerns the freedom of the press and, with amendments, is still in force. It’s a long document with many provisions, but it was intended, among other things, to allow for the open expression of political opinions. Without this law, for example, Emile Zola could not have published his famous article “J’Accuse,” in defence of Captain Dreyfus in 1898.

The section in the law devoted to “affichage” (postering) does not actually say in so many words, “Post No Bills on Public Buildings.” What it does say is that the mayor of any city, town, or village may designate certain walls on which only official posters may be placed and that “affiches particulières” (advertisements or private notices) are forbidden on these walls. It’s quite open-ended in its way: leave certain walls alone and do what you like with the rest.

And people did, pretty much. The 1881 law did nothing to dampen enthusiasm at the time for painting huge advertisements on walls and plastering vertical surfaces with posters. In fact, in the late 19th century, Paris was a jumble of advertisements everywhere you looked. This famous photograph by Eugene Atget, taken behind the church of St-Séverin in about 1900, shows a typical assortment on walls and even on the Vespasienne on the right.

That photograph contains the name of the connection I had not made: Georges Dufayel, the forgotten master of publicity. Because it is hard to spot, here is his name in a detail from the photograph, along with a fine collection of useful brushes.

Dufayel’s an old friend. I first encountered his name in 2011, when I bought a postcard that set me off on a voyage of discovery:

The postcard showed an enormous building viewed from the heights of Montmartre. I learned that it had been a department store, famous in its day, now largely forgotten. The building is still there, but the top part, where it says “Dufayel” and the superstructure above, has been removed, along with its crowning searchlight. Still, in 2011 I was able to photograph the existing building from roughly the same place on the Montmartre hill.

The department store, originally known as Le Palais de la Nouveauté, had been founded by Jacques François Crespin, and it sold household furnishings and other durable goods. Georges Dufayel was Crespin’s protégé. Before Crespin died in 1888 and Dufayel became the sole owner, advertisements included both names, as in this poster for bicycles, which were all the rage at the time.

The “Palais” was a major Paris tourist attraction in its day. Dufayel offered more than just shopping. Note that the poster above advertises a bicycle track for clients to try out their purchases. Early on, Dufayel understood shopping as entertainment.

This postcard shows a visit by a large group from Calais. They were not the only group to have their photo taken in this spot.

Note the billboard behind the group, advertising a “cinématographe.” The store included a cinema, one of the first in Paris. Many of the films of Georges Méliès were shown there.

I ended up doing quite a bit of research on Georges Dufayel and found that in addition to running his department store, he vastly extended the practice of buying on credit pioneered by Crespin (buy that bicycle on the installment plan!), built a seaside resort at Ste-Adresse near Le Havre known as Le Nice-Havrais, and founded a publicity business.

He called this business, grandly, Affichage National. Dufayel always did things grandly. In 1889, he secured the concession for advertising on the walls surrounding the Exposition Universelle. Here is the delightful cover of one of his business brochures, with illustrations by the caricaturist Albert Guillaume. It suggests Dufayel might have had a sense of humour.

Dufayel even competed with the Morris columns for a while, creating “colonnes Dufayel” for advertising on the sidewalk. The column doubled as a mailbox. A postage stamp shows the design of the columns, with space on top for advertising products or Dufayel’s own name.

An informative Paris blog provided many examples of the colonnes Dufayel, so I went hunting through our own postcard collection and eventually (bingo!) found this:

It’s not easy to spot, behind the two men facing the camera, so here is a close-up.

Dufayel’s name and his posters were everywhere you looked in turn-of-the-last-century Paris. In reviewing our postcard collection, I kept finding more images in which his name is visible. Here you can see it in at least three places, along with the tower of the department store.

Dufayel died in 1916. His department store survived into the early 1930s, and his successors continued the tradition of publicity, which included patronage of some excellent poster artists of the day. Here is a lovely example from the 1930s, by Leonetto Cappiello, designer of many famous posters:

In the Second World War, the department store served as barracks for soldiers. One American soldier, E. Carver McGriff, who wrote a memoir of his war experiences, was billeted there in 1944:

The truck finally pulled up in front of Magasin Dufayel on Rue de Clignancourt, a large, upscale department store which the Germans had commandeered as housing for German occupation troops. Now it was our turn. When I entered, I saw an enormous stairway, and on its landing was a magnificent mirror some twenty feet high. The building was in excellent condition. We went to the next floor which was filled with cots, and that became my home.*

McGriff’s book is interesting and enjoyable, but I bought it simply because of its connection to Dufayel. I admit that Dufayel is a bit of an obsession with me. And part of that obsession is the fact that he is steadfastly ignored in so many histories of Paris. Why?

He was an outsider. He came from humble beginnings, and his department store was located in a working-class neighbourhood near Montmartre – unlike Le Bon Marché, La Samaritaine, Les Galeries Lafayette, Printemps, or the Bazar de l’Hotel de Ville, all of which are in much more affluent neighbourhoods. He was so successful that he made his competitors uncomfortable. He was awarded the Legion d’Honneur, but was never part of the inside circle of Parisians in his generation.

He was an odd duck. He built a house on the Champs-Elysées that was so grand that even he couldn’t live in it, and ended up living in a smaller building in the courtyard. (The house has been largely demolished, although a couple of pillars remain in one of the arcades off the Champs-Elysées.) Dufayel had no family (he was wedded to his work), and the only friend who is consistently mentioned is the architect Gustave Rives, who collaborated with him on many construction projects in Paris (including the department store and the house on the Champs-Elysées) and in Ste-Adresse.**

Dufayel was unconcerned by what others thought. He had a saying, “Bien faire et laisser dire.” Now this could be translated in two ways: “Do well and let them talk” or “Do good and let them talk.” He certainly did well. But did he do good? He employed thousands of people – although a strike at the store in 1905 brought to light his excessive demands on his employees; he didn’t seem to realize that not everyone was a workaholic like him. He sold a lot of furniture in a way that allowed lower-income people to buy things over time. He brought a touch of turn-of-the-century glamour to a small seaside town near Le Havre (although many buildings, such as the Casino and other attractions, have since disappeared). And he covered the walls of Paris with advertisements, including his own name. Hm. A mixed record.

Still, he interests me. After all my hunting, I still know so little about him. And the next time I see another postcard with his name on it, I shall probably buy it.

*E. Carver McGriff, Making Sense of Normandy (Portland, Oregon: Inkwater Press, 2007).

**Many of these big public buildings served a new purpose in the First World War, becoming the headquarters of the government of Belgium in exile. The building shown below still stands, and we have visited it.

Text and contemporary photograph by Philippa Campsie; postcard images from our collection; Atget photograph, brochure, and poster images from Gallica.

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