Charles Marville: The Streets of Old Paris Before Haussmann

Charles Marville began his career as a draftsman, making wood engravings and lithographs as book illustrations. By 1851 he was a well- established photographer, working both as official photographer for the Louvre Museum and for Blanquart-Evrard’s pioneering photographic publishing venture.

In 1861, Marville received his first major commission from the French government, an assignment to document the newly established park in the Bois de Boulogne. Following the success of that project, in 1865 he received his second major Imperial commission. In preparation for Baron Haussmann’s massive urban renewal projects, Marville was tasked with creating more than 400 large-format views of the ancient “streets or portions of streets destined to disappear”.

Using very large wet collodion on glass negatives, and often working in early morning on a tall ladder, this series is one of the most renowned in the history of photography. All the prints in this exhibit are from the first printing of the negatives, and are from an album formerly in the collection of André Jammes. The prints document the University area of Paris, home of it's intellectual life from Medieval times until the present, before many of the ancient buildings were leveled for the Hausmann projects and grand boulevards.

After the completion of this huge and important project and the accompanying rebuilding of the city, Marville again received an Imperial commission. This time it was to document the dozens of forms of street lamps designed and installed to illuminate the new, wider streets and avenues and to project Paris’ desired image as the most beautiful, and safest, of European capitals. The views were exhibited at the Universal Exposition of 1878, just before Marville’s death. This first photographic typology is a fascinating study of the extraordinary variety of lamps designed for specific locations and the proto-modernist vision of Marville in placing them within the newly created urban context.