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Paris on the Potomac

Paris on the Potomac: The French Influence on the Architecture and Art of Washington, D.C.

Cynthia R. Field
Isabelle Gournay
Thomas P. Somma
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    Paris on the Potomac
    Book Description:

    In 1910 John Merven Carrère, a Paris-trained American architect, wrote, "Learning from Paris made Washington outstanding among American cities." The five essays in Paris on the Potomac explore aspects of this influence on the artistic and architectural environment of Washington, D.C., which continued long after the well-known contributions of Peter Charles L'Enfant, the transplanted French military officer who designed the city's plan. Isabelle Gournay's introductory essay provides an overview and examines the context and issues involved in three distinct periods of French influence: the classical and Enlightenment principles that prevailed from the 1790s through the 1820s, the Second Empire style of the 1850s through the 1870s, and the Beaux-Arts movement of the early twentieth century. William C. Allen and Thomas P. Somma present two case studies: Allen on the influence of French architecture, especially the Halle aux Blés, on Thomas Jefferson's vision of the U.S. Capitol; and Somma on David d'Angers's busts of George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette. Liana Paredes offers a richly detailed examination of French-inspired interior decoration in the homes of Washington's elite in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Cynthia R. Field concludes the volume with a consideration of the influence of Paris on city planning in Washington, D.C., including the efforts of the McMillan Commission and the later development of the Federal Triangle complex. The essays in this collection, the latest addition to the series Perspectives on the Art and Architectural History of the United States Capitol, originated in a conference held by the U.S. Capitol Historical Society in 2002 at the French Embassy's Maison Française.

    eISBN: 978-0-8214-4239-5
    Subjects: Architecture and Architectural History, Art & Art History, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Donald R. Kennon
  4. The French Connection in Washington, D.C.: Context and Issues
    (pp. 1-35)
    Isabelle Gournay

    If an account of the French artistic presence in the United States is of little value without multiple references to the nation’s capital, a narrow focus on “Paris on the Potomac” would be equally sterile. This essay takes us on a journey through three periods when French ideas about urbanism, architecture, and public art helped transform many American cities. Each period was triggered by a spurt of artistic activity and creativity in France. The earliest phase spanned from approximately 1790 to 1820, when principles associated with classicism and the Enlightenment helped shape civic and commemorative designs for the young republic....

  5. Remembering Paris: The Jefferson-Latrobe Collaboration at the Capitol
    (pp. 36-55)
    William C. Allen

    One of the most fascinating chapters in the history of the Capitol involves the collaboration between America’s most architecturally sophisticated president, Thomas Jefferson, and the first genius to practice architecture in America, Benjamin Henry Latrobe. Their association at the Capitol began in 1803 and flourished until Jefferson retired six years later. It was an amiable relationship marked by mutual admiration and respect, yet there were also famous arguments that highlight their important differences. Several significant aspects of their collaboration were rooted in Jefferson’s love of French culture, particularly his pleasant and persisting memories of the modern buildings of Paris and...

  6. “The Son by the Side of the Father”: David d’Angers’s Busts of Washington and Lafayette in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol
    (pp. 56-76)
    Thomas P. Somma

    About 1827, the great nineteenth-century French portrait sculptor Pierre-Jean David d’Angers (1788–1856) produced a bust of George Washington, probably in marble, which was presented to the United States by the French nation in late 1827 or 1828. The French costs related to the bust were funded through national subscription; and David, during the course of his work, benefited from the occasional advice and suggestions of his friend and fellow republican, Gilbert du Motier Lafayette (1757–1834), who followed closely the progress of the model. The bust was placed in the Congressional Library (then housed in the Capitol).¹ Early the...

  7. Private Homes, Public Lives: Francophilia among Government Officers and the Washington Elite
    (pp. 77-116)
    Liana Paredes

    After the Civil War, Washington, D.C., experienced an economic expansion that triggered a period of feverish building and configured the small urban center as a residential city par excellence. A concerted effort on the part of the territorial and federal governments made the city primarily the seat of government, a meeting place for captains of industry and politicians, and a center for sightseeing. Inherently, this decision kept Washington outside the fields of commerce and industry.

    This economic expansion led to a public improvement program of the urban landscape. In 1871, Congress approved an urban development program—explained at length in...

  8. Interpreting the Influence of Paris on the Planning of Washington, D.C., 1870–1930
    (pp. 117-138)
    Cynthia R. Field

    In 1910, John Merven Carrère, a Parisian-trained American architect whom we shall meet later as a consulting architect of the U.S. Capitol complex, wrote an article stating that “learning from Paris made Washington outstanding among American cities.”¹ Carrère laid down a few cardinal principles that he derived from both plans and that he said should “underlie all city planning.” Those determining principles were circulation, hygiene, and art. As the firm of Carrère and Hastings applied these principles to the buildings that would frame the Capitol, we might keep them in mind to see how they recur.

    Improving upon Paris must...

  9. Appendix: Architects and the French Connection in Washington, D.C.
    (pp. 139-156)
    Isabelle Gournay
  10. Contributors
    (pp. 157-158)
  11. Index
    (pp. 159-164)