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Michael Marrinan: Romantic Paris. Histories of a Cultural Landscape, 1800-1850, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press 2009, XVIII + 467 S., ISBN 978-0-8047-6151-2, USD 35,00
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Rezension von:
Judith Wechsler
Department of Art and Art history, Tufts University
Redaktionelle Betreuung:
Andreas Fahrmeir
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Judith Wechsler: Rezension von: Michael Marrinan: Romantic Paris. Histories of a Cultural Landscape, 1800-1850, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press 2009, in: sehepunkte 10 (2010), Nr. 9 [15.09.2010], URL:

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Michael Marrinan: Romantic Paris

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Histories of a Cultural Landscape is both more and less than Michael Marrinan states that he sets out to do. Reading the introduction, one expects a more personal and immediate recounting of his experience of Romantic Paris through its vestiges. "My goal has been to capture something of the sensation, 'without looking at any specific detail' (Michelet)" "To make my subject the ineffable of early nineteenth-century Paris" (1). And yet so much of the book is not about the ineffable, but the actual cultural manifestations in stone, canvas, and other media, rendered in high detail, from which we learn a lot.

Marrinan locates his project within a lifetime of coming to know Paris, in its Romantic period, and through what might suggest a contemporary Romanticism. He presents many case studies of different aspects of Paris in the period 1800-1850, with particular emphasis on architecture and monuments, and their relation to history and its interpretations. Theater, art, including lithography and photography, spectacles, and department stores are among the other subjects. Most of the chapters read as if self-contained, with links provided to the larger theme. The research is thorough and impressive and the amount of detail contributes to the substantial contribution of this book along with many insightful observations.

Henri Lefebvre's ideal of social space is a continual point of reference, defined as being produced continuously by its inhabitants: he makes distinctions between historical space and abstract space. What he ascribes to the city as product, "took root and began to germinate in Romantic Paris [...]. Lefebvre's Paris of transitions - poised at the threshold of modernity - is my subject" (5).

Marrinan's own stated method is "to break down the illusion of a mastering voice by inviting viewers to explore the material in different sequences and by means of personalized zigzags" (3). But as one reads these informative chapters, the methodology is quite traditional, and the "zigzags" have more to do with the range and sequence of motifs. The choice any author or editor makes of such a range can be considered "personalized" but these chapters are not idiosyncratic, which is just as well. Marrinan wishes his subjects to "speak as codings for "representational spaces"" (3).

Here follow a brief summary of the chapters.

CHAPTER 1. The Moods of Post-Revolution Paris are situated in the shifts of power during the rise and demise of Napoleon. The ambitious, somewhat abstract assertions, embedded within Fevebre's theories are counterpointed by Marrinan's historical summaries and accomplished by the formal description of the paintings of Napoleon by David, Gros, and lesser known artists. It is not clear how the detailed descriptions of these paintings feeds into Marrinan's larger project. Perhaps they were written initially for another context. He contrasts Napoleon's political agenda with a quote from Madame de Stael regarding cultural aesthetics. He notes that "an ethic of empowered femininity played a key role in the development of new art forms in Paris during the first decades of the nineteenth century" though this theme is not really developed in the book (16). Much of the chapter is devoted to Napoleon's career, from the desire to bring the Revolution to a close to the unraveling of his power.

Marrinan goes on to discuss Gericault and "his personal trajectory through the labyrinth of national politics." He is interested in the ways the years under Napoleon's rule continued "to haunt its painters, sculptors and architects, and to inspire its composers, poets and playwrights" (43).

CHAPTER 2. The City as Witness and Battlefield, traces the political conflict that continued during the return of the Bourbon monarchy to the start of the Second Republic. Marrinan is concerned with the allegorical stature of Parisian monuments and how they are made to serve current political ends. This is partly done by the selective appropriations of the past.

Citing Pierre Nora, Marrinan is interested in the ways history and memory co-exist in the collective experience of a people: the monuments of Paris "were sites of ideological skirmishes between memory and history" (45). Regarding illustrations of monuments, "Each image transforms the shifting flux of eyewitness memories into the repeatable register of official history" (49). And citing Maurice Agulhon, attending to how monuments and spaces of Paris were rendered in visual documents, allows us "to discover where battles of the minds and allegiances of Parisians were fought" (49). The chapter contains detailed discussions of history paintings (David, Gericault) like Delacroix's 28 July 1830, Liberty Leading the People reflects the painter's carrying over a lived experience into an allegory, fusing memory with lasting history. (60)

CHAPTER 3 continues with the-symbolization of Paris, through social practices seen in bridges, sidewalks, sewers and cemeteries, and by re-allegorizing existing monuments to support the status quo, which Marrinan sees as "the battle being waged between living memory and political exigency over the representations of space" (4).

After the Revolution and Empire, Paris monuments were stripped of their original significations and given new ones that eradicated their heritage. There was particular sensitivity to the power of monuments to shape one's image of the past. Marrinan first focuses on the Louvre and its history as a museum, from the demise of monarchy to the rise of Napoleon and its aftermath when many works had to be returned to their original country.

From his exile on St. Helena's, Napoleon recalled his dreams for Paris as a city of 3 to 4 million people, the capital of the Empire, the political hub of Europe, the grandest urban space in the world, safe, healthy, and clean (75). Marrinan traces the developments of the city, focusing on the rue de Rivoli, though not completed until the Second Empire, which provided a model for the great boulevards of the 1850s and '60s, with its straight trajectory, regular facades, and classical detailing (76). He argues that the predilection for strolling transformed the ways cemeteries were configured into "public promenades of reverie and nostalgia" (78). He discusses the founding of the Banque de France and the Bourse under Napoleon.

The section "Contested Spaces: The Politics of Urban Memory", reviews some major monuments, from the Vendome Column to the Arc de Triomphe, erected under Louis-Philippe. The history of its sculptural decoration is discussed and the changes wrought by different political aspirations. "Indeed, setting Delacroix's picture of Liberty alongside Rude's group on the arch [Departure of the Volunteers in 1792] reveals a shared visual vocabulary of dynamic movement, and the staging of a clash between generalized allegory and anecdotal detail that challenges norms of decorum and tradition" which Marrinan characterizes as mobilizing a "hybrid iconography" (105).

During the Revolution the royal statues in public squares were torn down, melted, and recycled as canons for the army. In the 1830s the place de la Bastille recovered a symbolic meaning. Place Vendome, crowned by a statue of Napoleon, was the center of a vast urban renewal project that included the new rue de Rivoli.

CHAPTER 4. The section Old Stones and Ruminations explores "a more personal side of remembering tied to affect, sensibility and nostalgia, triggered by the chronicles and personalities of mediaeval France, from the private living quarters of powerful and educated women to the restoration of Notre Dame" (4).

The large-scale restorations of the Louis-Philippe period underscore "the omnipotence of the past and of history" (157). "The increasingly official context of historicism during the reign of Louis-Philippe sheds light on the polemic generated by the restoration of Notre-Dame de Paris" (158). There follows a detailed report of the polemics.

CHAPTER 5. An Aesthetics of Confrontation deals with the conflict between the classicists and the romantics at the universities, and its manifestation in the world of art, seen in the Salon of 1824. The Romantic is exemplified by Delacroix's Massacre at Chios, whose pictorial ambition was "to generate a personal and directly affective viewing experience from the cold facts of the distant tragedy" (163). This painting is contrasted with Ingres' Vow of Louis XIII as the "last line of defense against the barbarians of "fever and epilepsy"" unleashed by Delacroix (166).

The detailed analyses of various lesser known works show Marrinan's historical capacities in analyzing traditional art but their relevance to Paris is less clear. The discussion of the "cultural other" focuses on Delacroix's Algerian Women in their Apartment, of 1834. Marrinan notes: "It is not surprising that works of art instantiating Said's mechanics of domination characterize the years of French colonial expansion in North Africa" (203). He associates social space and colonial rule in his subheading "The Other France".

Marrinan discusses the explosion of inexpensive visual imagery made possible by lithography, in such volumes as the voyages pittoresques. "The goal was no longer to dominate nature but to become lost in it" (211). Hence the craze for dioramas.

With the revolution of 1848 the countryside turned against conservative politics. In this context, to show pictures of rural life in Paris "was a sure way to become ensnared in controversy" (214), exemplified by Millet's barely restrained violence. Marrinan discusses Courbet's A Burial at Ornans, 1849-1850, and the threat it was perceived as posing to Parisians as a harbinger of revolutionary socialism.

CHAPTER 6 explores social practices accompanying developments in the world of art: bohemian lifestyles, literary cenacles and salons; the rise of portraiture; a revolution in drama and staging; the phenomena of virtuosi and stars. Theater is discussed in this chapter, rather selectively, first focusing on Delacroix's response to an English production of Faust, which inspired his series of lithographs. "The fascination with picturing unreasoned violence owes much to a heightened exchange between Romantic painters and poets" (223), such as between Delacroix and Byron, or Boulanger and Hugo. In landscape painting, the influence of Constable on Paul Huet is discussed, though the later was more concerned with producing a mood than rendering visual truth.

Introducing the subject of Paris bohème, Baudelaire, and Gerard de Nerval are discussed as well as Murger's Scénes de la Vie Bohème, Balzac's portrait of Lucien, and George Sand's arrival in Paris. Many artists and intellectuals of Romantic Paris believed that aesthetic activity was capable of improving the world. After a brief discussion of a few portraits and the expansion of the parameters of expression, Ingres' portrait of publisher Bertin, 1832, is analyzed carefully in relationship to the artists' role in Parisian social life, which can be seen in a different mode in his portraits of the Comtesse d'Haussonville and the attention to detail.

The section, Going Out: Hernani and the Demise of Classical Theater, describes the play and the audience reaction. The Boulevard theaters are contrasted with the classic French drama at the Comédie-Francaise with the great tragedian Talma and his introduction of more natural gestures. Curiously, Marrinan makes no mention of the greatest tragedienne, c. 1838-1855, Rachel, who rose from the streets and became the most acclaimed actress of her time in the classic roles of Racine and Corneille. She would have been an excellent example of someone who drew large crowds to the classical theater by her more naturalistic gestures and expressions. Instead Marrinan focuses on Marie Taglioni at the Opera. Paganini's charisma is discussed and his impact on visual artists, most notably Delacroix. In the fashion for portrait medallions of famous figures by David d'Angers in bronze Bas-relief Marrinan sees as form of writing: "these are the archives of an epoch" (267). These works "are modern for its embrace of mechanical reproduction and systemic cultural meaning" (270).

CHAPTER 7. A New Paris discusses shifts in comportment and dress in response to new urban experiences tied to the introduction of covered shopping areas and arcade, the new neighborhoods in the city and the evolving social milieu of cafes, restaurants and public transportation. Marrinan is interested here in the development of urban space and sociability that defined class, professional and political affiliations.

Alongside the boulevards, sidewalks made a gradual appearance, but the streets, often sites of danger and inconvenience, were countered by places and gardens, like the Palais Royal. The galleries developed there "nurtured consumer habits of browsing and window-shopping that are now taken for granted" (276). The flaneur is described by Balzac who attributes to the type "a gastronomy of the eye" (279). The idea of aesthetic value was promoted, engaging the effects of the spectacle of commodities and veiling its true purpose. Curiously Marrinan does not discuss Baudelaire's insights on the flaneur.

Marrinan compares the Passage des Panoramas to the Galerie Vivienne, built in 1823-1826, in which glass was the principle component of the roof together with the use of mirrors, which distinguished if from earlier Passages. It "valorized the privileging of sight that was an essential quality of the flaneur's mythic lifestyle. It also instantiated a precarious social situation"(280).

The arcades represented a new hybrid of urban space, between private and public. Quoting Bertrand Lemoine, "they worked like urban laboratories in which new social practices were tried out; consequently they played intensely on the register of novelty and fashionability" (283).

Remapping the Urban Fabric concerns the construction that took place by 1824 and the development of new neighborhoods. Marrinan discusses the changes and the hierarchies of streets and the reciprocal link between old and new Paris. The anonymity of the uniform buildings found its corollary in personal anonymity, which he associates with the ubiquitous black suit (293). "New patterns of social fragmentation emerged within the city's fabric from a matrix of architecture, history, and cultural practice [...]. Self-consciousness of what it means to be urban remains and important and lasting legacy of cultural life in Romantic Paris" (294).

From the physical changes to the city, Marrinan passes to what he calls the intangible aspects. The Spectacle of City Life begins with a discussion of restaurants, which became popular during this time as social spaces. Women were excluded. Mirrors in cafes contributed and redoubled the pleasures of seeing and being seen in public. He writes that modern historians write that coffeehouses were essential to the development of bourgeois sociability. Clubs developed especially after the Revolution of 1830 restricted to men with common interests. They were catalysts for shaping "the self-image, political base, and ideology of the Parisian bourgeoisie" (303).

The City as Stage begins with Boilly's painting of 1819, Free Entrance to the Theatre Ambigu-Comique as a rich gloss on the didactic exchange between art and life as analyzed by Richard Sennett. The crowd becomes a spectacle. Daumier's lithograph of The Fifth Act at the Gaité, 1848 is the starting point of his discussion of the caricaturist. He quotes Daumier mistakenly, when in fact there is only one adage reliably attributed to him. Marrinan writes that Daumier was sent to prison for his caricature of Gargantua, when in fact the sentence was suspended and he was imprisoned for a subsequent caricature.

The self in motion reviews the development of public transportation, particularly the omnibus, which Huart thought of "as an allegory of life" (320). It allowed many classes of people to think of themselves as living within a much larger urban framework, and "to imagine themselves as part of a mobile and cosmopolitan culture". It made the "thrill of random diversity - central to the flaneur's carefully crafted lifestyle - accessible to everyone" (320).

CHAPTER 8, Art and Industry, is about how the use of industrial materials in commercial architecture effected the evolution of social practices within those spaces. The heightened levels of consumer desire are linked to the new categories of goods within these commercial spaces. It concludes with the effect of industrial forms of reproduction on creation, distribution and criticism of fine art, culminating with daguerreotype photography.

Marrinan describes the early department stores, and the growing acceptance of relatively inexpensive ready to wear clothing produced by factories in standard sizes. The architectural use of glass and iron made possible the light and space. At the same time Henri Labrouste's Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, the first building designed for storing books, was constructed with an iron frame. His rejection of classical orders and decoration was radical, "without the fanfare of symbols or allegories from the past" (335).

The new ability to print text and images on the same page lead to a great increase in the number of illustrated books in Paris in the 1830s and 1840s and an increased role of the publisher, who controlled the entire chain of production from author to reader. The richly illustrated Memorial de Sainte-Hélene, on Napoleon's exile, in a popular heap edition, paved the way for the unexpected return of Bonapartism to the center of French political life.

Re-Producing Art concerns the domestication of sculpture, made possible by a system of mechanically reproducing sculpture by re-scaling and reproduction. It also raised issues about the handiwork of someone beside the artist and about ownership and authorial rights, when the copyright law was under revision. The reception of lithographic imagery in Paris, embraced by Romantic artists, concerns the medium's autographic character.

The invention of photography by Niépce and Daguerre is reviewed. Marrinan cites Janin's placing Daguerre's invention in a larger cultural context of social mechanization (369). Janin also believed that daguerreotypes would crystallize the imagery of Paris as the eternal city. Marrinan recounts the craze for daguerreotypes, especially for portraits, followed by paper negatives and collodion prints. These intersections of art and industry, and the Parisian affinities between modern yet artisanal process, Marrinan links with Labrouste's Bibliothètheque Sainte-Geneviève with its combination of industrial iron and hand carved stone. Mass produced photographic prints were made possible in 1851 the same year Louis Napoleon Bonaparte launched the Second Empire. Big business and rapid industrialization "would sweep the engaging, hand wrought anachronisms of Romantic Paris into the dustbin of history" (378).

EPILOGUE. Bonaparte's coup-d'état and Hugo's exile served as an epilogue to a history of Romantic Paris. Hugo went from being a mildly disappointed backer of Napoleon III in January 1849 to political exile in 1852. Referring to "Napoleon-le Petit" in Hugo's address to the National Assembly led to "inexpressible turmoil" (392). Threatened with capture, dead or alive, Hugo fled France. Marrinan suggests that if Hugo had paid attention to some of the popular prints of Bonaparte imagery, he would have been forewarned of his ambitions and appeal. Hugo returned from exile two decades later, to Romantic Paris, "A city, he would soon discover, that was no more" (394).

Marrinan's book is an original take on Romantic Paris, bringing together diverse aspects into a larger picture, evoking memory and history. His individual case studies are each interesting, and contribute to an expanded understanding of visual culture in Paris and its cultural landscape, 1800-1850.

Judith Wechsler