Sunday, 6 March 2011

Parc Monceau

Despite the genteel air of the haute bourgeoisie that hovers over the sunlit lawns, the dark shadow of hidden history falls across the Parc Monceau, one of many Parisian open spaces drenched in the blood of slaughtered Communards when the dream of a workers’ republic disintegrated in la semaine sanglante in late May 1871. For Claude Monet it was a short walk north along boulevard Malesherbes from Gare Saint-Lazare in search of a new subject. Monet would paint about 5 canvases in Parc Monceau between 1876 and 1878 at a time when he was relocating from the suburban tranquility of Argenteuil to the Quartier de l’Europe. The verdant acres of Monceau made a pastoral counterpoint to the smoke and steam that preoccupied the artist at nearby Gare Saint-Lazare.

The main entrance to Parc Monceau is on boulevard Courcelles and notable for the classical rotunda designed by Claude Nicolas Ledoux (1736-1806). Originally built around 1785 as the Rotonde de Chartres for the collection of taxes, it formed part of the infamous and much resented Wall of the Farmers-General constructed between 1784 and 1791. The Wall was the brainchild of Louis XIV and encircled Paris to enable taxes to be collected on goods and produce as they entered the city. Prior to the Revolution the park had been the plaything of Philippe d’Orleans (Duc de Chartres) for whom it was constructed in an informal English-style complete with a Masonic pyramid and ruined Corinthian pillars.

In the aftermath of the Revolution the park passed into public ownership in 1793 but was only incorporated into the City of Paris in 1860 at the instigation of Haussmann. Half of the park was sold off for redevelopment and the remainder was remodelled by Jean-Charles Alphand (1817-91) in 1860-61 before opening to the public. The surrounding streets have a quiet aura of privilege and there remains a touch of grace and favour – six private residences bordering on the park retain their own access.

For all this the park is a fascinating place to explore with its gilded gates, sculptures of Chopin, de Musset, Gounod and de Maupassant, and Corinthian colonnade artfully distressed and reflected in the waters of the Naumachie pool. This item began with an episode of political violence and concludes with an episode of cinematic violence. The climactic rendezvous in the 2006 French film, Ne le dis à personne (Tell no one) was filmed in Parc Monceau in accordance with the Hitchcock doctrine that nothing increases dramatic tension as much as an unremarkable and unthreatening setting. The camera pans back and forth across a scene of unexceptional normality as the hapless hero prepares to meet the wife he has believed to be dead for ten years. The film clip happily ends before the violence turns truly nasty.

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