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Paris' Parks and Gardens

Paris - The Shining Minds


Paris has always been a magnet for artists, and the first to really put Paris on the painting map was Antoine Watteau, king of the Rococo painting style. Rococo was a light and frivolous style of painting that featured carefree aristocrats in love skipping around idyllic landscapes. Something like an eighteenth century Hello magazine. He moved to Paris in 1702, and captured the finery and frippery of the aristocracy's elegant fêtes galantes.

Napoleon brought much looted art to Paris, but the Allies made him hand it back, leaving a void for home-grown painters to fill. Eugéne Delacroix the leader of the Romantic movement, captured the drama of the Revolution in his work, whilst also decorating churches stripped bare during the Reign of Terror.

Talking of stripped bare, Edouard Manet shocked the Parisian art world with his work Déjeurner sur l'herbe, where a naked girl stares directly out of the canvas. 1874 was the year to visit the Sociéte anonyme des artistes exhibition, where a fistful of future greats were on show - Degas, Renoir, Pissaro, Sisley and Monet - a.k.a., the Impressionists. Some artists made a point of moving away from Paris, such as Gauguin and Cézanne, but others celebrated its landscapes and people, including Georges Seurat and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

Everything went square-shaped when Picasso and Georges Braque arrived in Montmartre and created the new style of Cubism. The Parisians have always been passionate about their art; the first Surrealist exhibition in 1925, featuring works by Picasso, Miró, and Salvador Dali, sparked a mass riot.


Jazz would never have been the same had Adolphe Sax's decided not to exhibit his new instrument at the 1867 Paris Exhibition; the Saxophone. Jazz musicians have always been drawn to Paris like an unlit Gauloise to a candle, and one of the most innovative stars was a local silent film pianist who took up the violin, Stéphane Grappelli. He founded the first all-string jazz band with Django Reinhardt.

Parisians just love extravert artists; Josephine Baker won fame in the 1925 "La Revue Négre" by wearing nothing but bananas and a smile. Interestingly, she also won the Croix de Guerre for her work with the Resistance during World War Two.

Try to name a Paris-born French pop star beyond the original smoothy himself, Sacha Distell, or Edith Piaf, and you might get a bit stuck. Here's one; Serge Gainsbourg. He was the scruffy, heavy drinking song-writing Svengali behind stars such as Jane Birkin and Paris-born BB (Bridget Bardot). And yes, he penned the smoochy classic that he and Birkin heavy-breathed their way through in 1969, "Je t'aime . moi non plus".


Writing in Paris could be a dangerous occupation. Voltaire was a source for the French passion for the rights of man. Whilst his famous essays and satirical writings inspired thousands, they also got him exiled from his native Paris. Poet and philosopher Rousseau may have believed that man had been corrupted by society, but he too got into hot water over his obscene verses, and was exiled from the city in 1712.

Writer Victor Hugo didn't have to look far for inspiration for his novels. The crushing poverty he saw in Paris inspired the Revolutionary work Les Misérables, whilst his novel Notre Dame de Paris provoked the city into saving and restoring the crumbling cathedral. Such was his fame that at his funeral, the Arc de Triumph was draped in black cloth and two million people paid respects at his coffin.

Social injustices had always got the literary blood boiling, but Emile Zola risked everything by publishing a damning critique of the Dreyfus affair in the Paris daily newspaper, L'Aurore. The article, "J'Accuse", landed Zola in court, and he fled Paris rather than be sent to jail. Zola's work ensured that Dreyfus was cleared of all charges.

The steamy side of Parisian literature was popularised in the 1930s by Colette, whose series of novels featuring the adventures of Claudine were best sellers. Post World War Two Paris was also an irresistible magnet for foreign authors such as Americans Henry James, Ernest Hemmingway and Gertrude Stein, and Irish playwright Samuel Beckett.

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