Paris and the Seine, circa 1853.
oil on linen. 34x54 in. 2001.
For over four decades, Frank Wright has painted wide vistas or panoramas of Paris. The first were done from the balustrade in front of the church of Sacré Coeur a few blocks from where he lived with his wife on the Rue Hermel during the early sixties. These early paintings were based on drawings made on the spot and soon after painted in his studio. They are unusually accurate in the description of a Paris rapidly being transformed into a "city of light" by the cultural minister of the time the Degaullist Minister and notable French writer André Malraux.
The present painting is his first historical rendition of Paris as seen from the tower of the Church of Saint-Gervais, a favorite vantage point for tourists and photographers to view the eight bridges over the Seine.
There were many stereopticon photographs taken from this point beginning in the 1850s and continuing until the outbreak of war in 1914. The artist has a rare, extensive collection of these images which served as the source material for his painting. The year chosen was 1853 at the height of Napoleon III's Empire at the beginning of the transformation of the city under Baron Haussmann and Viollet-le-Duc.
In the center foreground of the painting, one can see the early footbridge over the Seine which led from Notre-Dame to the Place de Grève in front of the Hotel de Ville. This bridge, known as the Pont d'Arcole, was soon to be demolished and replaced by the wider bridge which is still in existence. Notre-Dame Cathedral is without the spire (or flêche) which was added a decade later by Viollet-le-Duc. The Hotel de Ville (or city hall) is in the far-right foreground. This beautiful sixteenth century building was set afire and totally demolished during the 1871 siege of Paris by the Commune following the defeat of Napoleon III by the Prussians in the previous year.
Close to the horizon one can see the churches of Saint-Sulpice, Saint-Germain-des-Prés, and Sainte-Chapelle adjacent to the Palaís-de-Justice. In the distance, behind Sainte-Chapelle is the imposing dome of the Invalides. At the extreme right is the Louvre.
The towered structure abutting Pont Notre-Dame is the pumphouse of the same name which was built in 1670 but taken down in 1856. Its function was to distribute water from the Seine to nearby cisterns.
The artist believes that his rendition of Paris from this vantage point at the height of the French Empre is unique and hopes that it may someday be destined to become a part of the collection of the Musée de Carnavalet, the great museum of the history of Paris.