The Independence of Culture (1799 to present)

Paris City HallFrance and the United States are rightly considered the birth places of modern democracy. But while Americans have enjoyed the political and institutional stability of the “one and indivisible Republic” for over 200 years, the French since 1789 have experienced a succession of short-lived regimes: a Directoire, a consulate, two empires, two monarchies, and five republics, as well as the Vichy regime during World War II. In France, as one President of the Fifth Republic has noted, political crises tend to lead to institutional crises which threaten the regime itself. In such moments, the French have thrice heeded the call of charismatic and prestigious leaders (Napoleon I, Napoleon III, and Marshall PĂ©tain) whose temperaments and politics paid short shrift to democracy. But twice they have turned to General Charles de Gaulle, who led the French Resistance against the Nazis and, in 1958, founded France's current regime, the Fifth Republic. To date, it has proven a robust, prosperous and stable democracy.

The United States has not faced the threat of military invasion since the early nineteenth century. France, on the other hand, was overrun by foreign armies in 1814–1815 and later fought three major wars on her soil over seventy-five years (the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and the two World Wars). Nor have the French been spared civil strife, including revolutions (1830, 1848), civil wars (1871, 1940–45), bitter wars of decolonization in Indochina and Algeria after World War II, and paralyzing nationwide strikes in 1968.

Such cataclysms have inflicted incalculable human and material losses. But they have also provided an inviting canvas of events and ideas for the creative brush strokes of poets, playwrights, novelists, painters, caricaturists, and statesmen -- possible proof that the great artists of the modern era are motivated more by upheaval and injustice than by tranquil prosperity. The result: a remarkably rich and diverse culture, inspired by Enlightenment values and independent as never before from those who hold the reins of power.

Equally impressive has been the ultimate triumph of the revolutionary ideals of 1789: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. That victory owes much to the French men and women who have defended freedom and democracy against domestic and foreign foes alike, often at the peril of their lives. Many of the items in this final section of Creating French Culture bear witness to their courage in the face of censorship and worse, and to their unwavering commitment to principles which Americans, too, have always cherished.

This painting is at the heart of a series of studies on the misfortunes of war and Napoleon's retreat from Russia, which was to result in Géricault's most famous lithograph, Return from Russia. In the middle of the icy plain a one-armed grenadier leads the exhausted horse of a blind cuirassier. The pain, resignation, and despair on their faces summarize this horrible disaster, survived by only a handful of Napoleon's soldiers.

165. Théodore Géricault (b. 1791–d. 1824), Le Retour de Russie (The Return from Russia), around 1818, Department of Prints and Photographs, Dc 141b Rés. vol. 1, Watercolor over pencil on Bristol Board, and lithograph

Bookmark this item: //

Daphnis and Chloë, a novel by the third-century B.C. Greek writer Longus, has been illustrated often throughout the centuries. In 1793, Pierre Didot the Elder, the scion of a dynasty of printers that revolutionized the aesthetic of the book in France, asked Pierre Prud'hon (b. 1758–d. 1823) to illustrate the novel. Prud'hon's three drawings were supplemented by six from François Gérard (b. 1770–d. 1837). The copy exhibited here was produced for Imperial Marshal Andoche Junot (b. 1771–d. 1813).

168. Longus, Daphnis et Chloé (Daphnis and Chloë), Paris, 1802, Department of Rare and Precious Books, Rés. Vélins 835, Vellum

Bookmark this item: //

Champollion's five-volume Egyptian Pantheon drew heavily on his deciphering of hieroglyphics. For each god he provided abundant, accurate, and detached testimony of the classical authors, philological discussions, and excerpts from hieroglyphic texts, accompanied by drawings. Folio 88 reproduces the principal symbols of the Egyptian goddess Hathor whose motto on four columns is “lady of the offerings, eye of the sun residing in its disk, mistress of the heavens, spirit of all the gods.”

169. Jean-François Champollion (b. 1790–d. 1832), Panthéon égyptien (Egyptian Pantheon), around 1815-1825, Manuscripts Department, Western Section, NAF 20323, Paper

Bookmark this item: //

This set of four sketches by Charles Philipon (b. 1800–d. 1862), executed probably in 1831, begins with an accurate portrait of King Louis-Philippe (1830–1848) whose face the caricaturist gradually transformed into a pear. The pear, as a symbol of the soft, corpulent king, met with immediate success. Louis-Philippe, the so-called “Citizen King” was a favorite target of republican caricaturists until censorship was reinstated in September 1835.

170. Charles Philipon, La Métamorphose du roi Louis-Philippe en poire (The Metamorphosis of King Louis-Philippe into a Pear), Department of Prints and Photographs, B 16, Rés. Philipon, Pen-and-bister-ink drawing

Bookmark this item: //

Charles Marville, like Baldus, turned to photography from painting early in the Second Empire. Commissioned by the city of Paris, Marville began in 1858 to photograph the old streets destined to disappear during the urban renewal directed by Baron Georges Haussmann (b. 1809–d. 1891). He also photographed the City Hall. In this print of the oldest, central part of the façade, the richly sculpted Renaissance décor seems carved out by the light from the street lamps.

178. Charles Marville (b. 1816–d. after 1879), L'Hôtel de Ville de Paris (Paris City Hall), Paris, around 1860, Department of Prints and Photographs, Eo 8 grand folio, vol. 3, Albumen print from wet collodion on glass negative

Bookmark this item: //

Hugo wrote Les Misérables, of which this is the autograph manuscript, between 1848 and 1861, to draw attention, as he noted in the preface, to “the degradation of man by poverty, the ruin of woman by hunger, the wasting of the child by night.” The work succeeded in drawing attention to the working conditions of women and children. Immediately successful, the novel inspired a stage version, parodies, an American film in 1909, and, more recently, a celebrated musical.

180. Victor Hugo (b. 1802–d. 1885), Les Misérables, n. d., Manuscripts Department, Western Section, NAF 13379, Paper

Bookmark this item: //

The premiere of Giuseppe Verdi's (b. 1813–d. 1901) Aïda (March 22, 1880 at the Paris Opera) benefitted from the advice of Auguste-Edouard Mariette Bey (b. 1821–d. 1881), the famous Egyptologist. The scenery and costumes were designed with the greatest archeological precision. Exhibited here is the model for Scene I, Act I: a hall in the king's palace. The entranceway in the middle leads to the hall of judgment, the gallery on the right to the prison of Radamès.

189. Three- dimensional Model for Verdi's Aïda, n. d., Opera Department, Maquette 130, Cardboard cut out and painted

Bookmark this item: //

In December 1894, Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a French Jew falsely accused of treason, was sentenced to lifelong internment on Devil's Island. In January 1898, the famous writer Emile Zola, convinced of Dreyfus's innocence by mounting proof of a military cover up, drafted an open letter to President Félix Faure, denouncing the military establishment. The government filed suit against him, which, as Zola had predicted, ensured that “the truth is emerging and nothing can stop it” (folio 33).

193. Emile Zola (b. 1840–d. 1902), J'accuse…! (I accuse…!), January 11–13, 1898, Manuscripts Department, Western Section, NAF 19951, Paper

Bookmark this item: //

In this collection of “Jewish stories” by Clemenceau (who became one of the falsely accused Captain Dreyfus's staunchest defenders), candid accounts of the Jewish condition, collected during trips to Central Europe, counterbalanced more fanciful portraits (Baron Moses, Mayer the friendly crook). To illustrate the stories, Toulouse-Lautrec observed life in la Tournelle, the Jewish quarter of Paris. The original binding exhibited here is soberly Art Nouveau.

194. Georges Clemenceau (b. 1841–d. 1929), Au pied du Sinaï (At the Foot of Sinai), Illustrations by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (b. 1864–d. 1901), Paris, 1898, Reserve of Rare and Precious Books, Rés. Z. Audéoud 223

Bookmark this item: //

The conception and composition of Pelleas and Melisande, the only opera Debussy completed and one of the major works of the twentieth century, well illustrates the latent conflicts between dominant cultural authorities and an artist aware of the revolutionary character of his work. The autograph manuscript of the orchestra score exhibited here was used in the first performances and for the first edition of the orchestra score published in 1904.

195. Claude Debussy (b. 1862–d. 1918), Pelléas et Mélisande (Pelleas and Melisande), n. d., Music Department, MS 963

Bookmark this item: //

The theme of this volume of Proust's masterpiece is homosexuality, depicted through the experiences of the two main characters, Charlus and Albertine. Cities of the Plain fills seven of the twenty notebooks Proust used for the revised copies of the latter parts of the novel. The notebook displayed here corresponds to the beginning of Cities of the Plain II, which opens (fol. 14) with a high-society party given by the Princess of Guermantes.

197. Marcel Proust (b. 1871–d. 1922), A la recherche du temps perdu: Sodome et Gomorrhe (Remembrance of Things Past: Cities of the Plain), 1915-16, Manuscripts Department, Western Section, NAF 16709

Bookmark this item: //

Back to Top