Last week I saw a series of photographs on the website of the Guardian. Photographs by Philippe Blet and Kamil Zihnioglu documenting graffiti connected with the ‘Gilettes Jaunes’ protests(1)

Striking were historical references like; “Macron = Louis 16”, a combination of Emmanuel Macron the King that was publicly guillotined in 1789. Political texts like; ‘Taxera les Riches’ ( Tax the Rich) and ‘La crise climatique est une guerre contre les pauvres’( The climate crisis is a battle against the poor), and even a biblical quote ‘And when they say ‘peace and security’, then the world will be lost’ But the most fascinating photograph for me was this one.

The half-circle behind the pedestal shows workers with baskets, a wheelbarrow and spades. Grouped around the pedestal are four men, a painter with a palette in hand, a bricklayer and an architect, the profession of the man on the left is unclear to me. The graffiti “insurrection Populaire”makes it difficult to decipher the name of the man on top. But aided by the first four readable letters ‘Alph’ I found out that the monument was dedicated to Jean-Charles-Adolphe Alphand (1817-1891). Chief engineer under the famous Baron Hausmann, Alphand created walks, parks and gardens remodelled the Bois de Vincennes and Bois de Boulogne. So not the socialist leader the graffiti had let me believe, but a foreman directing his co-operators and workers.

I discovered that the monument was a work by Jules Dalou, the man with the brick in his hand leaning on the half-circle is a sculptor and not a bricklayer as I assumed. The names of the others are known also. Architect Bouvard, painter Roll, and engineer Huet. Interesting names for sure, but going into their careers distracts from my storyline. While searching for information about Alphand I came upon the following pdf

It is striking that this link does not seem to work anymore after a day and a message informs me about the occurance of an Error 404. Possibly a form of ‘linkrot’ a strangely naturalistic concept in relation to Alphand’s career. Look at the illustration, doesn’t is show similarities to Manet’s ‘View of the Universal Exposition of Paris, 1867’?

By leafing through my own collection of books and browsing the internet I’m unable to find this image. T.J Clarke’s ‘The Painting of Modern Life’ even shows the painting on the cover. In ‘Art and Politics of the Second Empire, The Universal Expositions of 1855 and 1867’ Patricia Mainardi offers a thorough analyses of the painting which takes up seven pages.

I don’t want to go into it in deep although it’s worthwhile reading. Just some sentences that caught my attention;“Because it is the only painting of the Universal Exposition, and because Manet’s intention was clearly to create a major work summing up both the event and his own aesthetic principles, issues both public and private, both aesthetic and political,can be illuminated through an analysis of this one painting.” ( …)” This was Manet’s first –and last- view of Paris, and if he painted it on the motif it would be his first plein-air picture”. (…) “Manet, whom Zola had recently defended against the accusation that his painting was as primitive as Epinal prints, has here adopted a similar spatial disjunction and taken it even further. He has dropped out the middleground completely and jammed together the two areas of maximum interest, the immediate foreground and the distant panorama”.

Mainardi quotes an Epinal print as a possible source( Pinot et Saciare, General View of Paris and the Universal Exposition of 1867, Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris), Berthe Morisot’s painting ‘View of Paris from the Heights of the Trocadero, 1872, (Santa Barbara Museum of Art) and the masthead engraving from the official exhibition catalogue( L.Dumont, LÉxposition Universelle de 1867 illustrée). But the image I came upon while researching the graffiti on the monument is nowhere to be found.

What do you think? Could this be a possible source for Manet’s painting?


2. Photograph: Kamil Zihnioglu/AP