Thursday, November 19, 2009

Return to Paris Streets

During last week's trip to the Chicago Art Institute, I delighted at the opportunity to revisit Gustave Caillebotte's 1876-77 Paris Street; Rainy Day, a critique of urban life I discussed in a recent post. My favorite part of seeing the piece up close once more? The chance to spot intriguing details in this precisely composed view of Paris that had just endured the extremes of Georges-Eugène Haussmann's city-reshaping ambitions.

I'd always recalled this image as feeling complete. The structure conveys totality, a surveillance over a managed environment, illustrated by the all-seeing eye atop that dominant building. Yet detail-photos reveal that work continues (left and center) in urban transformation, suggesting untidiness, a sense of Paris working frantically to stay ahead of a momentum its planners failed to anticipate. Also, my return to Chicago reminded me how the Paris street is indeed rainy (see right-side detail).

Strange, I know, but I'd never really noticed the drizzle. Ahh, the joys of museum attendance.

(low-res mobile phone photos by Andrew Wood)

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