Friday, September 4, 2009

Napoleon III and Paris

You'll have to hurry if you want to see the photography department's exhibition, Napoleon III and Paris, which ends September 7 (the Met Museum is open Monday, September 7 for the Labor Day holiday). It's tucked away in a small gallery space off the main hall of 19th- 20th-Century European Paintings.

I had wandered through this exhibition once a couple months ago, but hadn't spent much time with it until today. I was again reminded how much more valuable an experience can be if you just slow down and take each piece in one at a time. I think it also helped that I have now been to Paris (I took my very first trip there in July). But even for those that haven't been, these photographs will spark the imagination, for many of them depict a Paris that no longer exists. Their historic value outweighs even the arresting imagery of burned-out palaces, rubble, and barricades equipped with cannons and guns.

Notably, there is a photo of the Vendome Column, which was broken down by a group of Communards led by artist Gustav Courbet on May 16, 1871; and a drawing by Édouard Manet, entitled Civil War, which depicts a fallen soldier behind the barricades. There are also two stereographs (which I love, because of their three-dimensionality).


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