Archive for the ‘History’ Category
Millions of people flock to see her and they know not why. An ineffable something compels them to see her, and many endure long lines and crowded spaces merely to catch a glimpse of her. Once they see her they are probably underwhelmed because the idea was more grandiose than the real thing.
We might as well have been referring to the rich heiress who has recently been usurped by the Kardashians in tabloid fame, but, alas, we’re actually referring to another young lady whose fame has endured centuries, the Mona Lisa. And, despite this long-lived fame, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who could explain to you exactly why she is famous. It’s her enigmatic smile say some, or her curiously eyebrow-less visage, or perhaps the geometrical composition of the painting, or even the controversial identity of the subject.
It’s actually much simpler (via a comment by wisard on Reddit):
- Leonardo Da Vinci painted it. He is the foremost Renaissance artist. Artist’s credibility adds to the paintings popularity.
- Napoleon Bonaparte hung the painting in his master bedroom in 1800. This – I think – was the first tipping point of making the painting one of the most popular paintings in the world.
- 1804, Mona Lisa is hung in the Louvre – and others can now glimpse at the painting that Napoleon slept with.
- But the real tipping point for the paintings popularity only hit in August of 1911 – when Mona Lisa is stolen. Stolen from heavily secured Louvre which experts said was impossible. No one knows who stole it or how. Conspiracy theories abound. The painting is talked about in every newspaper.
- After 2 weeks of much fan fare, Police arrest Guillaume Apollinaire on suspicion of theft. He is the only person they have arrested. Apollinaire implicates Pablo Picasso. The rumor of Picasso stealing the Mona Lisa adds in a lot more fuel in making Mona Lisa very very popular.
- Picasso is questioned and released. Guillaume Apollinaire himself is released after 5 days. Everyone is still clueless as to who stole the painting. But conspiracy theories abound.
- Two years after the theft, the Mona Lisa is finally found when an employee working at Louvre tries to sell it to an art gallery in Florence for $100,000.
- When the Mona Lisa is returned to the Louvre, it draws massive crowds. People visit the Louvre only to see this one painting.
- And then it hit the Paris Hilton effect. Its popularity added to its popularity. So much so that most people don’t know why it is popular in the first place.
That’s just about the best explanation ever. Why do you think the Mona Lisa is famous?
We’re working on updating you with a full list of exhibitions available for la rentrée… in the meantime, check out this virtual exhibition of photos from the 1910 Great Flood of Paris (La crue de la Seine de 1910). In late January of that year tributaries — carrying abundant rains which had been accumulating since the summer of 1909 — flooded the Seine, causing it to inundate the city. Waters rose to 8.62 meters (28.28 feet) above their normal levels. Sewers and subway tunnels overflowed and flooded the streets through drains. Although the Seine never overflowed its banks in the city limits, streets were inundated and Parisians had to navigate parts of the city by boat and hastily built wooden walkways.
During its avant-garde heyday (1875 to 1905) art exhibitions and festivities flourished in Montmartre, giving birth to Dada, Surrealism and other unorthodox art forms. Montmartre’s gifted artists were determined to stun the status quo with their daring approaches, while its elaborate cabarets catered to patrons looking for a bit of risqué entertainment. This was the place to be in fin-de-siècle Paris if you were an artist, writer or counter-culture bohemian (I guess the late 19th century equivalent of a hipster).
Several creative associations were formed in and around Montmartre. There were many people involved in these who eventually became world-renowned artists such as Vincent van Gogh, Henri Matisse, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, Pierre Brissaud, Maurice Utrillo, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec as well as the American expatriate Langston Hughes. Pablo Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani and a few other struggling artists were content to live in Le Bateau-Lavoir, a commune, in the years between 1904 and 1909.
Even after the so-called heyday visitors to Montmartre mostly consisted of aspiring artists, struggling poets and unpublished authors. This list included the young Earnest Hemingway and his newly married wife, Hadley Richardson. Back then, Montmartre was a turn of the century artistic stronghold with lingering vestiges of “La Boheme”. Imagine a congregation of cabaret singers, pimps and vagabond painters sporting goatees and odd-sized berets.
The Montmartre of Today
In some ways, this Paris neighborhood remains the same. There still are traces of alternative culture, but you may have to head further downhill towards Pigalle, into the 9th district, to find some of the racier nightclubs.
Contemporary Montmartre has become one of the biggest tourist attractions of Paris. According to city officials, more than 6 million tourists visit this mecca of bygone bohemian culture every year. During peak season days, around 18,000 people walk up its winding streets, cramming the Place du Tertre – where many painters still set up their easels (the Dali museum and the Montmartre museums are nearby too). And they don’t mind elbowing their way up the constricted steps to get a glimpse of the Sacre-Coeur and to gaze down upon the remarkable and incomparable cityscape of Paris.
The Paris metro first began operating on July 19, 1900 and now comprises of 16 lines stretching over 214 km. There are 245 stations within the city limits of Paris alone. It transports an estimated 4.5 million people a day, and the underground station at Châtelet-Les Halles is the largest of its kind in the world. Needless to say, it’s an incredibly complex network which is easy to take for granted since we use it (and may even disparage it) on a daily basis. So, next time you are stuck waiting for the infamous line 13, just remember, it’s amazing this whole network of trains is working as well as it is in the first place.
At the Arts et Metiers you now have a chance to take a behind-the-scenes peek at the inner workings of this modern wonder. It is currently housing Metro…Ticket pour une expo, an exhibition that traces the history of the Paris metro with photographs, models and interactive displays. Tours are included with the entrance fee. It runs until January 1, 2012.
New Paris metro photo: ChrisYunker
Before Derrida and Tschumi conceptualized the new Parc de la Villette, this area in the 19th arrondisement of Paris used to house abattoirs (slaughterhouses). It’s always to fascinating to see how a city changes over time.