Charles Marville

French, 1816–1879


Image-for-Featured-Artists_Marville_R.jpg
Charles Marville
French, 1816–1879
Rue de la Reine-Blanche, from rue des Fossés Saint-Marcel
c. 1865–70
Albumen print
Clark Art Institute, 1999.15.2
 

Charles Marville became a photographer following a nearly twenty-year career as a book illustrator. Around 1851, he entrusted his earliest city views to Louis-Désiré Blanquart-Evrard, inventor of the albumen printing process and a pioneering publisher of photographic portfolios. Marville received his first state commission in 1858, when Napoleon III engaged him to document the Bois de Boulogne, an enormous public park at the western edge of Paris. Images of the Bois—freshly transformed from a predominantly flat royal hunting preserve into an undulating recreational area featuring artificial lakes, waterfalls, meandering paths, lush plantings, and myriad sporting and cultural amenities—formed Marville’s first major series exploring the changing landscape of the French capital.

Designated the official photographer of the city of Paris in 1862, Marville was instructed to “preserve reminders of the past” as he recorded centuries-old, densely built neighborhoods that Georges-Eugène Haussmann’s renovations would soon destroy or render unrecognizable. Typically, he took views from an open intersection, framing the length of the receding street slightly off-center, which often accentuated its claustrophobic and irregular—and therefore undesirable—qualities. This commission culminated with an album of 425 photographs collected by the Historic Works Department, a municipal committee that gathered maps and other visual materials concerning Paris’s history and topography.

Concurrently, imperial architect Gabriel Davioud employed Marville to photograph the different styles of lampposts installed across wide-ranging urban environments by Haussmann. As part of this commission, Marville also shot hundreds of examples of industrially fabricated benches, iron railings, fountains, advertising columns, and urinals designed to maintain cleanliness and safety across the city. Marville exhibited a hundred photographs at the World’s Fair of 1878, where French officials illustrated progress with his views of both bygone and revamped Paris.