March 17, 2014

La Belle Époque, France's Beautiful Age

I'm excited about an upcoming book release, A Paris Apartment, which tells the story of a woman living in Paris during the belle époque. The years from 1871 to 1914 were a time of indulgence, optimism and innovation which came to an end with the advent of World War I. But the building and artistic endeavours during this period helped shape the Paris that we know and love today.

The city of Paris played host to two World's Fairs during this time. The first exposition in 1889 saw construction of the iconic Eiffel Tower.

Eiffel Tower, Paris

The 1900 exposition gave us the Petit Palais and Grand Palais exhibition halls and the Gare d'Orsay railway station. The architectural style of the day was Beaux-Arts, characterized by formal design and elaborate ornamentation on a grand scale. The train station has since been converted into a museum, the Musée d'Orsayhousing the works of Van Gogh, Renoir and other great artists of the 19th century. Visitors to the museum can also enjoy a meal in the elaborate dining room with its trompe l'oeil ceiling and crystal chandeliers.

Musée d'Orsay on the Banks of the River Seine, Paris

Musée d'Orsay Dining Room

Dining Room Trompe l'Oeil Ceiling

Charles Garnier is one of the architects associated with the belle époque period. He designed the sumptuous Paris opera house, the Palais Garnierand also worked on the Monte Carlo Casino and Opera House.

The Palais Garnier, Paris Opera House

The flagship store of French department store chain Galeries Lafayette first opened on Boulevard Haussmann in 1895. The building's Art Nouveau glass and steel dome is worth a peek even if you're not in the market for French designer goods.

Galeries Lafayette, Paris

Art Nouveau Dome of Galeries Lafayette

Pont Alexandre III, named for the Russian tsar, spans the Seine River with fanciful creatures such as cherubs, nymphs and winged horses. It's my favourite bridge in Paris.

Pont Alexandre III, Paris

Nymphs on Pont Alexandre III

Nymphs on Pont Alexandre III

View of the Eiffel Tower from Pont Alexandre III

View of the Grand Palais from Pont Alexandre III

Many artists of the time frequented the bohemian neighbourhood of Montmartre (think Moulin Rouge, can-can girls and absinthe – the Green Fairy – a potent green liquor). Erik Satie composed the beautiful Gymnopédies and Pierre-Auguste Renoir painted Bal du Moulin de la Galette capturing an afternoon of drinking and dancing at a local restaurant.

Art Posters in Montmartre

Le Moulin de la Galette, Montmartre

Absinthe, the Artist's Muse

Auguste Rodin was the great sculptor of the time and he's best known for The Thinker. His work is on display in the mansion and rose garden of the Musée Rodin.

The Thinker, Auguste Rodin

Art Nouveau was all the rage with its fluid whiplash lines and curlicues. The style was incorporated into the ironwork of Metro station entrances by architect Hector Guimard.

Art  Nouveau at Cité Metro Station Entrance

The term "ritzy' was coined at the time for the lavish Ritz Hotel on Place Vendome.

Place Vendome and the Ritz Hotel

The belle époque spirit was not contained to the French capital. It followed pleasure seekers to the French Riviera in the form of casinos and luxury hotels such as the Hotel Negresco in Nice and the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo.

Hotel Negresco, Nice

Hotel Negresco Entrance

Along with the Hotel de Paris, the famous Place du Casino is home to two more icons of the age: the Monte Carlo Casino and the Café de Paris.

Monte Carlo Casino, Monaco

Hotel de Paris Monaco

Café de Paris, Monaco

On nearby Cap Ferrat is the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, a pink mansion built by the Baroness Beatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild, and its nine different theme gardens.

Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, Cap Ferrat

On April 2nd a new exhibit opens at Le Petit Palais called Paris 1900, The City of Entertainment which celebrates all things belle époque: paintings, objets d'arts, costumes, posters, photographs, films, furniture, jewelry and sculptures. The exhibit runs from until August 17th. I wish Paris was on my agenda this summer!

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Gardens of the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild

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