Managing the Image of Paris

Tale of Two Cities

 Parc Monceau, Monet, 1878

Parc Monceau, Paris in 1871- The Reality

Opened to the public by Napoleon III in 1862 this former private estate provides the location for Monet’s Parc Monceau, completed in 1878.

 

The garden’s celebrated floral displays are shown against a background of some of the most luxurious private mansions in central Paris.  Monet creates an attractive atmosphere by combining the strong sunshine with deep shadows while the well-off gather under the tall trees.  

 

A family group is sitting on benches in their Sunday best, relaxed and at home in the atmosphere. 

 

The background of mansions underlines the importance of private property while the three generations of a family suggest continuity and stability for the Parisian bourgeoisie. 

Bigger Picture

 

The Impressionists created images of life in 1870s Paris as safe and peaceful, and free from class conflict.  People are shown walking, shopping, sitting in family groups often in public parks.

 

This strategic use of locations such as parks and family gatherings provide the emotional ingredients around which painters like Monet constructed their vision of a re-born Paris. Parc Monceau is typical of those produced by Impressionists in recreating reassuring urban scenes for their buying audiences.

 

Seven years earlier this particular park was the site of brutal executions of those supporting the Paris Commune   Every day for a week groups of 20 captured men and women were lined up and executed by the Versailles troops. By the end of the week it was drenched in blood and the bodies of the dead piled high.  

 

Juxtaposed against this recent reality, Monet’s painting is telling a bigger story, not of suffering but of the bourgeoisie taking back control of their city.

 

There is little doubt that many Impressionists found the recent history of the war and uprising hard to picture.  Like Monet, they instead chose to exclude its memory from their works.