The Dishonor of Paris


On the upcoming anniversary of the Eiffel Tower, one hundred and twenty glorious years, a compelling account of the tower’s creation and a superb portrait of Belle Epoque France that promises to be a delicious read. Eiffel’s Tower by Jill Jonnes.

The story goes that as Gustave Eiffel (self-made millionaire, bridge engineer and scorned designer of this metal monstrosity), held court that summer in 1889 atop his one-thousand-foot tower, a remarkable host of artists and personalities—Buffalo Bill, Annie Oakley, Gauguin, Whistler, and Edison—traveled to Paris and the Exposition Universelle to mingle and make their mark.

At the same time, we learn what the local swells in Paris were really thinking:


“… few today remember the storm of vitriol, mockery and lawsuits provoked by [the tower’s] selection as the startling centerpiece of the 1889 Paris Exposition Universelle. (One of the losing entries was a gigantic working guillotine!)

Even as Eiffel was breaking ground by the Seine River in February 1887, forty-seven of France’s greatest names decried in a letter to Le Temps the “odious column of bolted metal.”

What person of good taste, this flock of intellectuals asked, could endure the thought of this “dizzily ridiculous tower dominating Paris like a black and gigantic factory chimney, crushing [all] beneath its barbarous mass”?

The revered painters Ernest Meissonier and William-Adolphe Bouguereau, writers Guy de Maupassant and Alexandre Dumas fils, composer Charles Gounod and architect Charles Garnier all signed this epistolary call to arms, stating that “the Eiffel Tower, which even commercial America would not have, is without a doubt the dishonor of Paris.””


Wall Street Journal




~ by eaesthete on 05/12/09.

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