Post posts: Home and Postcard Day (the Jethro Tull and Ian Anderson songs, respectively).

This blog is a long one and discusses my project of 3 paintings of Paris in various styles based on French artistic tradition, primarily from the 19th and 20th centuries. I put dates next to each segment of the process to show when things took place progress wise and to show how my thought process changed over time.

8/1-9/2023: I made a list of a few sites I would like to portray and attributes if each of them I would like to try to include. For example, the Latin Quarter has winding streets, is filled with shops and restaurants with diverse qualities (stores range from knick-knacks to local markets and restaurants range from fast food and bars to fine dining with a bar), and it’s local landmarks like Sourbonne, the Institut de France, and the Cluny. Ideally, I’d be able to do a series of paintings for each location, but I know my limits and will thus endeavor to fit as many as I can in one painting each.

8/10-13/2023: I have sketched out some drafts; first some rudimentary ideas of potential views, then more in depth plans to further define the direction I would like to go. Now I am in the process of selecting images to create the paintings which will either be done by painting a location exactly as it is in real life, or by using parts of the images to synthesize a view to distill the essence of the location.

8/13-15/2023: I decided to start with the Latin Quarter since it required the least amount of image synthesis. I had selected a primary picture to act as the base of the painting and procured a few other sample pictures to better help with the colors, colors, details, and features I wanted to include in the painting that weren’t in the original image. I started by sketching out a skeleton onto the canvas before adding paint. I wanted to go for a post-impressionist style for this painting, particularly inspired by the “Café Terrace at Night” by Vincent van Gogh. I used acrylic paint which was unfortunately thinner than the oil paint of the time leading to a flatter texture and some bleeding issues, but I think the colors turned out alright considering the material limitations. I wanted to display storefronts, restaurants, and the geometric layout of streets to the best of my ability with the perspective I am using, as well as the dome of the Institut de France showing the area’s history with education.

8/15/2023: I wanted to try different artistic styles for the remaining paintings to further show the diversity of French painting while trying to match the feel of the style with the subject. This in mind, picking a style for Montmartre was difficult because it was home to so many different artists. By the time I finished the Latin Quarter painting I narrowed it down to two styles: an impressionist/art-nouveau style like Toulouse-Lautrec or a Fauvist style like Matisse. I initially wanted to create and image that encompassed the whole of Montmartre from the base to the top, but I felt I couldn’t adequately do that while sticking to any kind of spatial reality. The image I decided to use in the end showed the windy streets, the varying architecture, the incline of the hill, and the crowning basilica of Sacre-Cœur at the top. Coincidentally, this is the same street that the picture used as the backdrop of this blog was taken from, (note the ivy covered building in the midground). thought is that I can add insinuations of what all occurs around Montmartre be it art, food, or other establishments with the buildings present in the image. This image in mind, I opted for a style more inspired by Matisse and got to work sketching a skeleton for the painting to follow. The style I’m leaning into for this particular painting has a very interesting use of color theory, particularly with the use of contrasting colors to make different parts of the images pop, that will be a challenge to work with. To accomplish this, I have been utilizing vibrant, often unmixed, paint in primary colors (only mixing to make colors like orange and pink), applying them in broad forms with varying concentration, adding shading and highlights afterward, and outlining some of the forms to further define some of the shapes. I used a painting of the Luxembourg Gardens by Matisse as a reference for color and shape for the painting. In retrospect, I could have used this as a reference for my painting of the Luxembourg Gardens, but integrity is important to me and I am not going to plagiarize Matisse. I decided to add a small, barely noticeable, “X” onto the “H” of my signature as a reference to a part of Montmartre I couldn’t quite portray in this vignette.

8/15-16/2023: For the Luxembourg gardens, I initially wanted to paint a view from western terrace down over the basin to the palace or a view of the terrace, but I couldn’t find an adequate picture of either to paint. I did however have a painting of the carousel with some of the surrounding garden around it. I decided to use it as a focus, along with some filling in of the terrace around it, to add to the movement of the picture. I chose a more Monet inspired style for the painting as I felt it lent a certain hazy feel that would work well with the mellow yet dynamic image I am trying to create. So, this all in mind, I got to work on sketching a skeleton and looked for aesthetic references that could help with color and texture.

8/17/2023These were all I could complete before the due time, and I am happy with the results. I might make more over the course of the semester, and if so I will share them. Thank you for the opportunity, and I hope you enjoyed!!!

Post Last: Pilgrimage (the R.E.M. song)

Ok, this is the beginning of the end/end of the beginning when it comes to these posts. We are leaving Paris which puts and end to the travel part of this blog, but it marks the beginning of the project portion of the blog. The next few posts on this blog will be following the process of creating at least one but hopefully more paintings of Paris. I will document the process, share work in progress pictures, and eventually post the final products with an overview of the thought process behind that particular work.

I also wanted to use this time to talk about the trip as a whole in regards to my experience with traveling in a city with friends. I feel like I learned a lot about how to navigate Paris and about its architectural and planning history. I’ve seen so much variety in the cultures of each neighborhood and section of the city while also getting lost in its labyrinthine homogeneity. I’ve grown to find the visual axis and diagonal streets equal parts beautiful and mind numbingly confusing to navigate (unless you can find a recognizable landmark down one of the roads). I’ve learned and experienced a lot with this group, but I’ve also learned that I need to learn to rely on myself. Sometimes, even when you are with a large group, you need to learn to be self sufficient and independent because you never know when you’ll be cut off from everyone else. Be it you are all walking in the city or you’re left on your own, you have to keep composure and remain calm so that you can find your way on your own.

This has been a great trip to be a part of and I was happy to learn in such a fantastic city. I haven’t done all I wanted to do while here both in learning and wandering, so I guess I will have to come back in the future if I get the chance! Thank you so much for this incredible learning opportunity and I hope you all have a great rest of your summer! This was a fun project to work on during this trip and I hope to see you enjoyed!

I drew the Chateau de Button in Gif-sur-Yvette.

I’m also sharing an image I drew in the first few days of the main building of the Cité U (where we’ve been staying).

Post Seven: Stairway to Heaven (the Led Zeppelin song)

Paris and art have a long history together, each building on the unique flavor of the other like wine and cheese. As is the case with most cities, the art scene of Paris isn’t concentrated in a consistent location; kind of. The region of Montmartre, located on a hill in the northern part of the Right Bank, has been a hotbed of artistic activity of all sorts for well over a century. The arts are still alive and well on this vibrant hill with many artists selling their services and products on the streets, especially in the Place du Tertre. There are also many restaurants and cafes in the area, along with its crowning Basilica Sacre-Cœur. Montmartre also has the Red-Light District which I find a bit amusing and mildly poetic considering the basilica watching over it at all times.

Montmartre, being the most prominent hill within Paris, was home to many groups of people over the centuries. When Rome was in possession of the region, they had built a community there that included a bath house. The Roman occupation of the area is what gives it its name having derived it from the name Mons Mars. After the execution of Saint-Denis, the area was renamed to Mont des Martyrs, and thus forming Montmartre. After the Romans, windmills and a monastery were built around the Saint-Pierre de Montmartre. The community atop Montmartre grew into a hillside hamlet with farms, orchards, and vineyards surrounding the ever growing monastery. Unfortunately, the monastery was demolished during the French Revolution in 1790 when it was converted into a gypsum mine. In the 19th century, Montmartre became the artist colony that it is known for today becoming the homes of studios for artists like Renoir, Monet, Mondrian, and van Gogh. Over time, the Red-Light District of Paris cropped up around the base of Montmartre including a burlesque theater harkening back to its past as a home to windmills (the red one with the musical named after it). Atop the hill was built the crowning jewel of Montmartre: the Sacre-Cœur Basilica (illustrated and pictured below). This massive structure serves as a beacon for the whole city of Paris as it is visible from much of the city; in turn, it has a famous panoramic view of the whole city from the top of its Campanelle and dome.

I drew the Sacre-Cœur Basilica. (I messed up the front quite a bit but what can you do.)

Post Six: Cemetery Gates (the song by The Smiths)

One of the single most influential sites in all of Paris is the Pere Lachaise Cemetery. While this may seem strange to some, after some research it makes a great deal of sense; particularly if you look at the way the cemetery was layer out. The oldest parts of the cemetery were designed to have a central corridor or axial vista that goes from front to back up a hill to a monumental structure, in this case a chapel. Around this central vista are meandering paths that wind through the monuments, tombs, and nature that is strewn throughout the site. The nature that is there is heavily curated to balance the effect of humanity merging with the peace and tranquility of nature while also controlling said plant life to sustain the tombs. This model of cemetery design has permeated the world in the planning of not only cemeteries like Hollywood in Richmond, Virginia, but also parks like Maymont which is also in Richmond, Virginia. I’m from around there, so those were the first that came to mind.

The history of Pere Lachaise is very interesting, at least to me, and dates back to the very beginning of Paris as an urban center purely based on technicality. The initial primary municipal grave yard for Paris was in flat region of the Right Bank around what is now Les Halles, which was the site of the market even then which isn’t exactly ideal. Anyway, Paris is also on the Seine which, as mentioned in a previous blog, floods regularly. This became a bit of a problem as people kept dying causing the grave yard to fill up beyond capacity and the Seine kept flooding which caused the decomposing remains of the recently deceased to sharknado themselves around town. Slight hyperbole, but the health risks still withstanding a solution was required. The remains from the original site were removed and relocated to an old quarry turned ossuary now called the Catacombs. Other cemeteries were also created around the city on hills so that the flood waters couldn’t empty them to the great ossuary in the sea prematurely. During the reign if Napoleon, the cemetery of Pere Lachaise was founded to be the biggest and most popular cemetery yet; in theory, anyway. Popular artists and romantics had to be exhumed and reinterred there to encourage the artsy fartsy elite of Paris to want to eternally rest there. As the years went by, this massively popular cemetery grew in size and in inspiration becoming an icon the world around.

I drew the Pere Lachaise Cemetery’s crematorium.

Post Five: Fire and Rain (the James Taylor song)

When people think of Paris, they likely think of the Eiffel Tower, but since I already did that I will talk about what people probably should be thinking about when they think of Paris: Notre-Dame. The cathedral of Notre-Dame, located on Île de la Cité, is the beating heart of Paris and by extension France. In fact, the legal geographic center of Paris and point zero of France is located in the Parvis of Notre-Dame directly in front of the main door on the west-facing façade. Notre-Dame is the epitome of iconic and continues to awe people too this day.

Although a church has been located on the site since the 4th century CE, construction of the cathedral we know today began in 1163 CE. The structure was built in phases; the first part completed was the choir and clerestory in the 1180s, followed by the nave in 1200. The cathedral utilized the very cool and very gothic technique of flying buttresses which distribute the weight of the top of the structure to the ground gradually similarly to the function of an arch. The cathedral was “finished” in 1345, but additions and changes would be made in the years to follow. The revolution was particularly rough on Notre-Dame, resulting in its desecration, reconsideration as a “Temple of Reason”, then reverted back into a church, made into a minor basilica, and then poorly maintained for years. A restoration and rehabilitation project was launched in 1844 to fix up Notre-Dame and, thanks to the work of Violette-le-Duc, add a few features that he felt were missing including recreations of missing medieval sculptures, a suspiciously Violette-le-Duc shaped bronze statue of St. Thomas, and a fancy new spire that, despite its lack of structural and functional necessity, became an iconic part of the image of Notre-Dame. The cathedral remained this way until 2019 when a tragic fire destroyed the roof and much of the structural integrity of the nave ceiling. Thankfully, the cathedral was saved and is currently in the midst of another massive restoration project set to be complete in late 2024.

I drew Notre-Dame with some added details (sorry about the spire, Prof. Smith.)

Post Four: Bastille Day (the song by Rush)

Despite my opinions on the Monument itself (it’s not my favorite), I would be remiss to exclude the Eiffel Tower from this catalog of posts. Despite its past as a much maligned mass on the Paris skyline, it has undoubtedly had an indelible impact on the city’s culture, history, and identity. Initially designed and built by Gustav Eiffel for the 1889 World Fair in celebration for the French Revolution’s centennial, the Eiffel Tower served the purpose of a centerpiece and observation tower to see the city from above. It was the tallest structure in the world for a time until it was usurped by the Chrysler Building in 1930.

The World Fair brought cultures and technology from around the world, never before seen innovations in science and engineering, and a devoted drive to the future to Paris in ways the city hadn’t encountered since the industrial revolution. Despite this, the people of Paris considered the Eiffel Tower a blight on the city and its skyline. Then, when Paris once again hosted the World Fair in 1900, the Eiffel Tower reprised its role as centerpiece monument and observation tower which prolonged its lifespan even further. Eventually, when Paris was just about to demolish the building, people realized it could be used as a radio tower because it was already tall and thus the building was saved. Now it is probably the most identifyable and visited sites in Paris next to the Notre-Dame cathedral and caked in so many lights that it is visible miles away based on the sheer amount of light pollution it emits.

These were the life and times of the Eiffel Tower, a true Monument of France. From being both French and hated by the French while also being a symbol of the ideal of their advancement to the future both technologically and culturally to waste-not-want-not mentality of its preservation and modern use, the Eiffel Tower is nothing if not very much an icon of Paris and of France; whether we want it to be or not.

I drew an image of the Eiffel Tower (I prefer the photo big time).

Post Three: A Night at the Opera (the album by Queen)

The Opera Garnier is a very interesting site in part because it is a very ineffective venue for performance. While it may seem odd that an opera house would be designed to be ineffective as an opera house, it does make sense when you learn that the primary purpose of the Opera Garnier was not to watch a performance, but rather the tried and true past time of watching people and judging them for their grievous mistakes and life choices. The theater is designed in a horseshoe shape to optimize people watching and gossip with the side effect of making the stage nearly invisible to many box seat viewers.

The opera was constructed under the urban renewal of Paris under the rule of Napoleon III and Baron Haussmann. The opera was designed by Charles Garnier with the intent of being an architectural style unique to the Napoleonic era. It was constructed on the destroyed remains of a community on a hill; the hill was flattened and the opera was built on top of it. Since there was a hill that was destroyed, the water table of the area was unusually high, so the opera was designed to have a large cistern underneath to reduce the risk of flooding and collapse.

I drew the inside of the Opera Garnier’s theater since the exterior was under maintenance.

Post Two: Pretty garden; Lots plant.

I drew a flowerbed in the Jardin du Luxembourg in front of Luxembourg Palace.

Luxembourg gardens and palace were initially constructed under Marie de Medici after the death of her husband King Henri IV. The palace was designed to be reminiscent of the Pitti Palace in Florence, which her family is from. The surrounding gardens were initially smaller, including the Medici fountain, but was expanded multiple times over the years. The garden grew to include a well manicured palatial section with a central basin, an orderly French garden with areas for sport, play, and social gathering, and a meandering English garden with fruit trees and monuments to French and French-adjacent people of note. An axis was also laid out from the palace to the Paris Observatory with park between and a large fountain with representations of different parts of the world.

I personally really liked visiting the gardens and have gone back to it a couple times since. I like the laid back vibe and relaxing environment of the English garden for walking and relaxing as well as the more active and shaded French garden. I strongly recommend a visit if you ever find yourself in Paris; you will not regret it. Also, watching the model boats in the central basin is a joy.

First Post: A Brief Rundown

Hello! This particular entry will not only act as an introduction to what this blog will discuss, but it will also be an introduction to the city that it is about: Paris. My main focus will be the history of Paris through particular sites and structures being visualized through a focal piece of architecture. The entries will be accompanied by an image of said focal architecture as well as a quick sketch of the site. For example, if I were to delve into the religious history of the city, I could use an image of one of the many churches around Paris like Sacre-Cœur, Saint Chappell, and Notre-Dame along with a sketch (or sketches) highlighting the structure or an aspect of it. Today’s entry will contain a brief overview of the area’s habitation accompanied by an image of the Latin District.

Paris, or the region around what will become Paris, has been inhabited for millennia. The flat land located around the Seine was perfect for settlement, especially since this stretch of the Seine is slow moving and, like the land around it, very flat making for easy navigation across and both up and down stream. This particular part of the Seine also has two easily defensible islands in the middle of the river which are now called Île de la Cité and Île de Saint Louis. Île de la Cité was a prime location for the iron age Parisi tribe, the pre-roman inhabitants of the region, to take shelter in the event of invasion. Even after the Romans took over the land from the Parisi through conquest, the island was strategically important and used as a citadel for the castrum they would build on the left bank just south of the island.

Over time, after the Western Roman Empire fell, a germanic group called the Franks took residence around this strategic stretch of the Seine, building a castle on Île de la Cité. The site of this castle would be the same site as multiple later structures for the monarchs of Frankia, and later France, to rule their kingdom from until the construction of the Louvre. Near the site of the former Roman castrum is the Sorbonne, the oldest university in France, which educated scholars, doctors, and theologians around Europe in various fields of study from sciences to Latin. This university is what gives this part of the left bank, the Latin District, its name.

The accompanying image and sketch is from/of and intersection in the Latin District of Paris.