Lalanne, Boulevard St. Germain (1885)

The Rue du Rivoli, on Paris’s Right Bank, and the Boulevard St. Germain, on the Left Bank, were key elements of Haussmann’s revision of Paris’s street plan. Each cut across the heart of the city through some of its densest neighborhoods, greatly improving the circulation of traffic along an east-west axis. Most of the Boulevard St. Germain was carved out from existing streets, narrow and inadequate for the efficient flow of crosstown traffic. This sketch from an album of views and commentary on contemporary Paris by the English artist and art critic Philip Hamerton shows quite effectively, however, that the value of the boulevards to Paris as a community lay in the sweeping aspect of the broad street and the pleasing combination of architecture, vegetation, and human activity that made the boulevard into something more than a right of way. Hamerton writes that “[a]n Englishman who finds himself in some great Parisian street, such as the Boulevard Haussmann of the Boulevard Malesherbes has nothing to do but to simply confess that here is an ideal street…. True lovers of Paris… take a keen delight in those broad trottoirs [sidewalks] of the Boulevards. They walk upon them for the mere pleasure of being there till absolute weariness compels them to sit down before a café; and when the feelings of exhaustion are over, they rise to tire themselves again, like a girl at a ball.” (p. 86)

Hamerton also found it appropriate to register an oft-made complaint about the uniformity of the height of houses enforced by Haussmann and his successors: “Before Louis Napoleon the houses were generally of unequal height, but the love of the regular line made Haussmann’s Paris almost as regular at the cornice as at the curbstone. These changes no doubt give a more orderly appearance to the city, but they detract sadly from its picturesque variety.” (p. 88)

In the his Preface Hamerton made an intriguing and not very flattering comparison of Paris to Chicago: “It is probable that there is not another city in the whole world that has undergone so many and such great changes as the capital of Framce. Those of us who have familiar with Paris since the accession of Louis Napoleon have been eye-witnesses of the last of these, which consisted chiefly in improving the means of communication by opening wide streets, and in erecting vast numbers of houses of a new type. From the sanitary point of view the change was most desirable and circulation was made incomparably easier; from the artistic point of view there was a balance of loss and gain, as the old streets were not always, or often, worth preserving, whilst the new ones have always some pretension at least to taste and elegance, and many new buildings are really good examples of modern intelligence and art. But there is a certain point of view from which this reconstruction of an ancient city was entirely to be regretted. Archaeologists deplored the defacement of a thousand landmarks, and if it had not been for their patient labors in preserving memorials of the former city on paper, the topography of it would have been as completely effaced from the recollection of mankind as it is from the actual site. Were it not for the existence of a few very old buildings such as Notre Dame… Paris might seem to date from the age of Louis XIV, and even the remaining works of the great king are not sufficiently numerous to an aspect of the city, which seems as new as Boston or New York—I had almost written, as Chicago.”

 

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Chapman, J. M., and Brian Chapman. The Life and Times of Baron Haussmann: Paris in the Second Empire. London: Weidenfield and Nicolson, 1957.

DeJean, Joan. How Paris Became Paris: The Invention of the Modern City. New York: Bloomsbury, 2014.

Jordan, David P. Transforming Paris: The Life and Labors of Baron Haussmann. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.

Pinkney, David H. Napoleon III and the Rebuilding of Paris. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1958.

Saalman, Howard. Haussmann: Paris Transformed. New York: George Braziller, 1971.

Sutcliffe, Anthony. Paris: An Architectural History. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993.

Sutcliffe, Anthony. The Autumn of Central Paris: The Defeat of Town Planning, 1850-1970. McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1971.

 

Maxime-François-Antoine Lalanne, “Boulevard St. Germain,” in Philip Gilbert Hamerton, Paris in Old and Present Times (London: Seeley &. Co., 1885), p. 87. The Newberry Library, folio G 397.382