Sunday, October 14, 2007

Tragic nights of Paris

Georges Gorvel, Rue du Cherche-Midi (Impression)

The First World War – the war I still think of as the Great War – is the pivotal fracture point of modern history. I’ve acquired quite a few prints of WWI subjects, many showing the life of soldiers on or just behind the front line. But the most haunting and disquieting WWI prints I’ve seen are the fifteen etchings and aquatints – some with hand-colouring - in the 1926 portfolio Les Nuits Tragiques de Paris, by Georges Gorvel. Gorvel (French, 1866-1938), showing the unpeopled streets of Paris under aerial bombardment in the First World War. Georges Gorvel lost two sons in WWI. At night, while Paris was becoming the first major city to experience attack from the air, Gorvel haunted the eerie, empty streets, recording the special atmosphere of a city under threat from the sky. They are extraordinary documents in the history of modern warfare, and of the city of Paris; only 90 copies were printed. Gorvel himself was a highly-regarded etcher; in 1905 he exhibited with Henri Matisse at the gallery of Élie Faure. Gorvel also engraved French postage stamps, and made interpretative etchings of the work of other artists, including Raoul Dufy and Charles Guérin. The prints in Les Nuits Tragiques de Paris have an introduction by another interesting figure, the Belgian man of letters Albert t’Serstevens, whose life has been recorded by his widow, the artist Amandine Doré, in L’Homme au T apostrophe. A. t-Serstevens was a close friend and collaborator of the poet Blaise Cendrars; others in his circle included Robert and Sonia Delaunay, Louis Jou, Fernand Fleuret, and Pierre Mac Orlan. As a completely irrelevant aside, Albert t’Serstevens’ uncle Theodore was the judge in the 1873 trial of Paul Verlaine for the shooting of Arthur Rimbaud.

Georges Gorvel, Boulevard du Montparnasse

1 comment:

Philip Wilkinson said...

These empty but haunted street scenes are extraordinary - thanks so much for introducing me to them. Images of deserted streets are often oddly moving – I'm thinking of Atget's photogpraphs or some of the pictures by British photographer Edwin Smith - but these are exceptional.