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Rise of the Modern City

Discover the ways in which artists, photographers, and architects changed the landscape of modern cities.


Hippolyte Blancard
(French, 1844–1924)

1889. Platinum print, 8 15/16 x 6 1/8" (22.7 x 15.6 cm)

Hippolyte Blancard, a pharmacist and amateur photographer, documented Parisian architecture leading up to the 1889 Exposition Universelle, or World’s Fair, an international event showcasing new innovations, geographic and scientific discoveries, and works of art. This series of photographs depicts the construction of the Eiffel Tower, which was conceived as the entrance to the World’s Fair. Blancard’s photographic documents cover the tower’s progression, from July 1887 through April 1889.

There was a strong reaction to the Eiffel Tower among the general public, some of whom thought it was unsightly and a “stain” on the Paris cityscape. One critic called it “a truly tragic street lamp.” Many artists, however, embraced the Eiffel Tower as a symbol of modernity and the avant-garde. Gustave Eiffel, the tower’s builder and designer, responded to the criticism in a newspaper interview, saying, “For my part I believe that the tower will possess its own beauty. Are we to believe that because one is an engineer, one is not preoccupied by beauty in one’s constructions or that one does not seek to create elegance as well as solidity and durability?” Initially, the plan was to demolish the tower 20 years later, but it gradually became a defining icon of the Paris cityscape.

One who uses a camera or other means to produce photographs.

An image, especially a positive print, recorded by exposing a photosensitive surface to light, especially in a camera.

Something formed or constructed from parts.

A form, sign, or emblem that represents something else, often something immaterial, such as an idea or emotion.

Modern can mean related to current times, but it can also indicate a relationship to a particular set of ideas that, at the time of their development, were new or even experimental.

French for “advanced guard,” this term is used in English to describe a group that is innovative, experimental, and inventive in its technique or ideology, particularly in the realms of culture, politics, and the arts.

A Towering Undertaking
It took five months to build the tower’s foundation and 21 months to assemble the metal pieces. Three hundred workers joined together over 18,000 pieces of puddle iron (a pure form of structural iron) using over two and a half million rivets. It is now one of the most visited monuments in the world.