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Rise of the Modern City

Discover the ways in which artists and architects engaged with 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 held in Paris to showcase new innovations, geographic and scientific discoveries, and works of art. This series of photographs shows the construction of the Eiffel Tower, which was conceived as the entrance to the World’s Fair. Blancard’s photographs document the tower’s progression, from July 1887 to April 1889.

The public reacted strongly to the Eiffel Tower. Some people called it unsightly, a “stain” on the Paris skyline. One critic disparaged it as “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 after its completion, but instead it became a defining icon of the Parisian cityscape.

The science, art, or profession of designing and constructing buildings, bridges, and other large structures.

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.

Having the character of an icon, i.e., an important and enduring symbol, an object of great attention and devotion.

A person who conceives and gives form to objects used in everyday life.

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 Eiffel Tower’s foundation and 21 months to assemble its metal pieces. Three hundred workers joined together more than 18,000 pieces of puddle iron (a pure form of structural iron) using more than 2.5 million rivets. The tower is now one of the most visited monuments in the world.

Lunch with a View
One of the many critics of the new structure dominating the skyline, writer Guy de Maupassant famously said that he ate lunch at the Eiffel Tower every day as it was the only place in Paris from which you could not see it.