Artists Against the Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel Tower
Looking Up

“I ought to be jealous of the tower. She is more famous than I am.”

Gustave Eiffel

Gustave Eiffel’s words have a prophetic ring.  The Eiffel Tower continues to be more famous than the man who designed and fought for her existence.  Surrounded by a history of controversy, the Tower embraces the whole of Paris within her benevolent gaze, confident that her ageless splendour will continue into the next century. It is difficult to believe that many well-known and respected writers and artists objected to her existence.  The Eiffel Tower

They called themselves the “Artists against the Eiffel Tower.” Charles Gounod, Guy de Maupassant, Alexandre Dumas junior, François Coppée, Leconte de Lisle, Sully Prudhomme, William Bouguereau, Ernest Meissonier, Victorien Sardou and Charles Garnier participated in a protest that included the words:

“To comprehend what we are arguing one only needs to imagine for a moment a tower of ridiculous vertiginous height dominating Paris, just like a gigantic black factory chimney, its barbarous mass overwhelming and humiliating all our monuments and belittling our works of architecture, which will just disappear before this stupefying folly. And for twenty years we shall see spreading across the whole city, a city shimmering with the genius of so many centuries, we shall see spreading like an ink stain, the odious shadow of this odious column of bolted metal.”

The twenty years was an reference to the Tower’s demolition, which was scheduled to occur in 1909.  Fate (and technology) intervened when the Tower was transformed into a giant radio antenna.  And despite the protestations of the early naysayers, the Eiffel Tower was officially declared to be a historical monument in 1964.

The Eiffel Tower
Gustave Eiffel & The Pyramids

Gustave Eiffel remained unfazed by the criticism.  He went so far as to compare his efforts with those of the pharaohs of Egypt.

“My tower will be the tallest edifice ever erected by man. Will it not also be grandiose in its way? And why would something admirable in Egypt become hideous and ridiculous in Paris?”

The Eiffel Tower and Statue of Liberty
The Eiffel Tower and Statue of Liberty

Today, on March 31, 2016, we celebrate another anniversary of the Eiffel Tower’s opening in 1889. In the Tower’s inaugural year, a staggering two million visitors came to view the monumental accomplishment.

When they saw the completed Tower, many of the dissenters changed their mind; others never accepted Gustave Eiffel’s engineering achievement.   And while we may, from the clarity of hindsight, disparage those who spoke out against the project, I would rather view the debate as a necessary dialogue.  Embracing new ideas has great merit, but recognizing traditions and past contributions has equal importance.

I invite you to discover Paris and the Eiffel Tower for yourself.

16 Comments

  1. Christy B

    Today’s Google is of Zaha Hadid, in remembrance of her amazing architectural creations. The Eiffel Tower is glorious, although I have only seen it in person and in the tribute to it at the Paris hotel in Vegas. To quote Billy Crystal, “The Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower. They’re monumental. They’re straight out of Page 52 in your school history book.”

    1. Clanmother

      We are defined by what we build. Architecture is humanity’s continual search for creative expression, a way to document a specific time and generation. And speaking of Zaha Hadid – I love her explanation: “I don’t think that architecture is only about whether, is only about a very simple enclosure. It should be able to excite you, to calm you, to make you think.

  2. Lori Lipsky

    This is the sort of thing I love to read. Terrific post, Rebecca. I found it fascinating to learn for the first time that night photos of the Eiffel Tower violate Copyright laws. It pays to read the comments!

    1. Clanmother

      I am so glad that you enjoyed the post! I am learning a great deal about copyright these last few months, in particular how to include photos from Wikipedia commons in blog posts. I find this research fascinating, especially since it is so easy to copy and paste. Many times people inadvertently contravene rules simply because they are unaware of the specifics.

  3. Resa

    What a fabulous article, Rebecca. I have learned quite a lot from reading your 2 blogs…. well the 2 I know about!
    In a way, history is art because it leaves an imprint on the future. That imprint is a picture painted with the words and tales that record it. I think too, that many painters, musicians, writers, etc. have used history to help create, or have been inspired by it. In the case of the Eiffel Tower, history is still being created in the here and now, as it was in the past.
    HAPPY ANNIVERSARY, EIFFEL TOWER!

    1. Clanmother

      Oh, how very well said, Resa! I especially like your words: “history is art because it leaves an imprint on the future.” The creative spirit has the power to anticipate, to recognize, and communicate in ways that cannot be fully explained using objective terminology. I thought that you would be interested to know that Guy de Maupassant supposedly never accepted the Eiffel Tower as “art” however, every day he took his lunch at the Tower’s restaurant. I laughed when I read that his reasoning for taking lunch at that specific restaurant was that it was the only place in Paris where the tower was not visible. 🙂

    1. Clanmother

      Vielen Dank für Ihre Besuche und Kommentare. Was ich interessant fand, war, dass Gustave Eiffel, die Namen von 72 Französisch Wissenschaftler, Ingenieure hatten, und Mathematiker an den Seiten des Turms unter dem ersten Balkon eingraviert. Hab ein wundervolles Wochenende. Wir haben Sonnenschein in Vancouver. Der Frühling ist gekommen, unsere Stadt.

  4. Liz

    Fascinating! I did not know about all the antipathy to the Tower – we really take it for granted as part of the landscape these days, don’t we. I am sure no-one in France would be without it now! xxx

    1. Clanmother

      I agree – Paris would not be Paris without the Eiffel Tower. There is a Canadian story that will make your smile. It seems that, in the early 1960’s, there was a secret agreement between Charles de Gaulle and our Montreal Canada mayor, Jean Drapeau to dismantle and move the Eiffel Tower to Montreal for Expo 67. Can you imagine what Gustave Eiffel would have felt about that idea!? The idea was squashed because the company operating the Tower expressed grave concern that the French government may not allow the Tower to come back to its original location.

      1. Liz

        That is indeed fascinating – how amazing to think of the tower in Canada, had the worries come true about it staying! 😀

  5. Ms Frances

    Thank you for this revealing history of the now very famous tower. I do not believe the list of objectors at the time includes a woman; interesting, if true. Eiffel is certainly more famous than any of them, to be sure. Mr. Eiffel was courageous amid bad publicity–and he was proud of his achievement! (Good for him!) Excellent role model. Compared to the Pharaohs of Egypt, I am not sure, however Eiffel’s structure is made of lasting material, it could easily stand the test of time. Outstanding post.

    1. Clanmother

      Thank you!! Did you know that night photos of the Eiffel Tower violate Copyright laws? So all those photos taken at night and placed on Facebook pages and other social media venues are copyright infringements. So here is the fine print: The Eiffel Tower is considered public domain and is therefore not under copyright protection. The lighting, however, is a recent addition. Société d’Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel, the organization managing the structure, argues that the lighting is an artistic creation and must be considered different than the tower itself. But can you imagine how difficult it would be to track down all of those photos taken by literally thousands of people, who probably do not know about the copyright law related to the lights. And there are a lot of light – 20,000 from what I’ve read.

    1. Clanmother

      A sad day indeed!! I share your amazement of her architectural designs. She understood the basic needs of the human spirit and brought those needs into the realm of reality. We have lost a great spirit, but her work lives on and inspires others that follow.

      “I don’t think that architecture is only about shelter, is only about a very simple enclosure. It should be able to excite you, to calm you, to make you think.”
      Zaha Hadid

      “Education, housing and hospitals are the most important things for society.” Zaha Hadid

You're welcome to join the dialogue!

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s