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Hôtel de la Marine by Charles Marville

Hôtel de la Marine, 1864

Charles Marville

To contemporary viewers like us, this image of a street lamp may evoke nostalgia, but when it was made, it was a proud advertisement for the wonders of modernity. More than 20,000 new gas lamps were installed in the city in the mid-1800s, effectively turning Paris into the City of Light. Marville was commissioned to photograph each of the 96 prototypes for the new lamps, including this one located in the courtyard of the Navy headquarters. His composition is formal, yet poetic. The lamp bisects the picture plane in a perfect balance between light and dark, beautifully conveying the theme of illumination.

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Credit
National Gallery of Art