A Salon at 27 Rue de Fleurus

Photograph by Man Ray, 1923

The American experimental writer Gertrude Stein and her life-partner Alice B. Toklas, held court at their Paris apartment 27 Rue de Fleurus for 33 years. Great authors, artists and composers visited them on a daily basis and Gertrude was responsible for helping to launch many a career. To learn more about Stein, Toklas and their world at 27 Rue de Fleurus in Paris see the links below.

Jean Cocteau: The "Jacques"-of-All-Arts

Imagine being so talented that you could work in every medium of fine and performing arts and be hailed for what you created in each category. Jean Cocteau was just such a person. Painter, designer, playwright, novelist, poet, set and costume designer, illustrator, film-maker and librettist for operas and ballets, Cocteau was also a close friend of all the notable names of modern art and culture through the first half of the twentieth century. Learn more about his amazing output here.

 Four of Cocteau's films are considered classics and all are available in restored deluxe editions from Criterion Film Collection. Beauty and the Beast is a witty, re-imagining of Perrault's classic French fairy-tale. Three films made over the course of thirty years use the mythical Greek musician Orpheus as a way to understand human creativity and the universal journey from birth to death.

The Orphic Trilogy: The Blood of the Poet (1930), Orpheus (1949) and The Testament of Orpheus (1959)

Cocteau also wrote the text for several operas. Below are scenes from two of them Oedipus Rex with music by Igor Stravinsky (composer of Rite of Spring) and The Human Voice by Francis Poulenc (composer of Dialogues of the Carmelites which we saw during the lecture on the guillotine in class).

Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse

 Two of the most well-known artists of the twentieth century are Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. Both men spent significant parts of their lives making art in Paris. The BBC has made excellent TV documentaries on both of them. Below are the first parts of the two episodes. To see the full episodes visit Youtube.

The Innovations and Controversies of the Ballet Russe

The Ballet Russe took Paris by storm in the second decade of the twentieth century. The innovative uses of choreography, music, set design and costumes had an enormous effect on modern culture. The founder Sergei Diaghilev had a talent for mixing styles and for bringing the avant garde geniuses of many countries together to collaborate on his ballets.

 Diaghilev, by Leon Bakst

Two of the most controversial works that his company performed were The Rite of Spring (1913) and The Afternoon of Faun (1912). Both scandalized much of the audience for their violence and frank depictions of sexuality. But beyond the subject matter (both drew on ancient myths and legends) it was the new choreography of Vaslav Nijinsky and the bizarre rhythms of Stravinsky (Rite of Spring) that caused the greatest consternation. Diagilev and the Ballet Russe did much to solidify the reputation of Paris as a center of artistic innovation and creative experiment in the years leading up to the first World War. Below are professional recreations of these two important modern ballets.




The Victoria and Albert Museum is the largest owner of costumes from the Ballet Russe.Here is an interesting talk by one of their curators on the beautiful but nearly unwearable costumes designed by Nicholas Roerich for The Rite of Spring. Click HERE to hear the 18 minute talk!

Film Footage from Paris, 1900

Included in this post are several short film clips of Paris from around 1900. Several of these highlight certain marvels, sites and inventions of the Exposition of 1900. Most of this footage was taken by Thomas Edison who had become famous on both sides of the Atlantic for his many modern inventions.


Seeing History and the World at the Paris Expositions

As was discussed in class, Paris was the site of five World's Fairs or Expositions:
Each of these events lasted for many months and were visited by hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world. Below are several 3-D computer generated recreations of some of the spectacular pavilions, parks, buildings and environments created for various Paris expositions. Using photographs, drawings and architectural plans these long vanished spaces which were the equivalent of early theme-parks are brought back to life to be explored. Included here are the 1900 recreation of Medieval Paris as well as several Chinese Parks. In this way visitors were able to feel they had stepped across time (by visiting the "romantic" Middle Ages) and across space (by visiting the "exotic" lands of Asia).

Lecture on Paris in the Belle Époque

If you are interested in learning more about the culture and society of Paris in "La Belle Epoque" (or the beautiful age- a term used to describe late nineteenth century France), this is a very good lecture by Prof. John Merriman of Yale.

The Passion of Emile Zola

Following text by Donald E. Wilkes, Jr., Professor of Law, University of Georgia School of Law.

The article, by Emile Zola, the great French novelist, appeared in a Paris literary newspaper, L'Aurore (The Dawn) on Thursday, Jan. 13, 1898, "an essential date in the history of journalism," according to historian Jean-Denis Bredin. Written in the form of an open letter to the President of France, the 4,000 word article, entitled J'Accuse! (I Accuse!), rightly has been judged a "masterpiece" of polemics and a literary achievement "of imperishable beauty." No other newspaper article has ever provoked such public debate and controversy or had such an impact on law, justice, and society.
The appearance of Zola's article was the greatest day of the Dreyfus Affair, which tormented France for twelve years. The Affair, "one of the great commotions of history," in the words of historian Barbara W. Tuchman, arose out of the 1894 arrest and conviction for treason of Capt. Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish artillery officer in the French army. Dreyfus, who was completely innocent, received an unfair trial at his court martial; the prosecution's case had no substance, and the conviction was based on false, supposedly incriminating documents, not introduced into evidence or disclosed to Dreyfus, which were secretly delivered to the trial judges after they had retired to consider their verdict. Dreyfus was sentenced to life imprisonment and expelled from the army. He was incarcerated off the coast of South America on Devil's Island from 1895 until 1899.

Alfred Dreyfus (1859-1935) in military uniform

Emile Zola, photograph by Nadar, 1910

French newspaper cartoon of Zola

Illustration of Dreyfus being publicly humiliated by the military.
His sword was broken and his military regalia torn from his uniform.

Anti-semitic cartoon of Dreyfus as a hydra-like creature, labeling him both a horror and a traitor

The ruins of the prison complex on Devil's Island in French Guiana

Although the film "The Life of Emile Zola" (1937) is highly romanticized, it is never-the-less an excellent introduction to the Dreyfus Affair and to the life and work of Emile Zola. The movie won best picture at the 1938 academy awards and Joseph Schildkraut won a best-supporting actor Oscar for his heart-rending performance as the maligned and long-suffering Alfred Dreyfus.

Siege and Commune of Paris

The library at Northwestern University has digitized 1,200 images of the Siege of Paris and the Paris Commune, which is only a fraction of their entire collection. It can be found at:

Check out the political caricatures!

Google Art Project

I've recently learned about Google Art Project (http://www.googleartproject.com/), which is an initiative to digitize the contents of the world's great art museums. It allows you to take virtual tours through the galleries (or some of the galleries) and then zoom in on the paintings, providing a real close-up view -- you can see the cracks in the paint and everything. There are also viewing notes with background on the paintings.

Unfortunately, most of the paintings on view so far are not from the nineteenth-century and the museums do not include the Musée d'Orsay, or the Chicago Art Institute, which have notable collections of Impressionist art. I was unable to find any of the paintings that I showed in class today, but here is a different painting by Manet:

Edouard Manet, In the Conservatory

Nonetheless, it's a great resource for those of you interested in looking at paintings up close and lacking the means -- for the moment -- to travel. And presumably they will add more artwork in the future (when Google takes over the world ...).