Paris: the port of the Town Hall

Paris: the port of the Town Hall

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Title: Paris, market scene at the port of the Hôtel de Ville.

Author : NEGRE Charles (1820 - 1880)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 15 - Width 19.9

Technique and other indications: Salted paper proof, circa 1851.

Storage place: Orsay Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowski

Picture reference: 02-013690 / PHO2002-2-1

Paris, market scene at the port of the Hôtel de Ville.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowski

Publication date: September 2008

Historical context

New photographic techniques in industrial takeoff France

In 1851, the IIe Republic is weakened by the tensions between the people and the bourgeoisie, which dominates the political game through the party of the Order. At the same time as these political turbulences, mid-19th century Francee This century has witnessed very profound economic and social changes brought about by the industrialization process, the latter being accompanied and based on a number of technical innovations and decisive progress in transport. In 1851 Charles Nègre appeared as a pioneer photographer. His "Market scene at the port of the Hôtel de Ville", recently presented in the "masterpieces of the photographic collection of the Musée d'Orsay", has the qualities of "the snapshot" despite its relatively great and the extreme slowness of the process employed.

Image Analysis

An artist-photographer brings life to one of the oldest ports in Paris

The port activity of the place dates back to the Middle Ages. The king then allots part of the shore to the Parisian hanse of water merchants. Over the following centuries, the site hosted a dual activity of supply and market. Settled in 1849 on the Île Saint-Louis, Charles Nègre discovered the port of the Hôtel de Ville, where the strike gave way to a stone quay. It is located below the roadway lined with buildings whose silhouettes, light walls and zinc roof, limit the background. There is an early market, especially apples and pears during the winter fruit season. The photographer seized it as it was in full swing: the market gardeners wait in the middle of their wicker baskets, the barges parade. The artist’s innovative ambition, greeted with enthusiasm in his time, is, like Jules-Édouard Marey with the chronophotographer, to restore the life of this space. It is by the "vagueness", obviously intentional, that he intends to achieve this. Thus the barges take shape more or less clearly according to their movement or their station in front of a stall.


Paris, the first port in France. The end of the golden age of "walking paths"

Charles Nègre testifies to the intense activity represented by the supplying of the capital in the XIXe century, in the continuity of the modern period. At the beginning of the century, transport was provided by animal power and natural forces, in particular by rivers and canals, these “walking paths” according to Blaise Pascal. Paris, the first port in France until the Second Empire, extended its establishments to the east (ports of Hôtel de Ville, de la Râpée, and Gros Caillou). Traditionally, the most used ports were located upstream of the city, navigation on the Seine being more difficult downstream given the many bridges that span it, the mills located on its banks and the barges anchored along its quays. During the first decades of the century, a transport revolution took place, which caused the inland waterway and other modes of transport of the Ancien Régime to collapse, now considered risky, expensive and slow. If it was initially a question of improving what already existed - construction in Paris of quays facilitating the movement of goods, drilling of new canals (of Saint-Denis and Saint-Martin in 1826) -, d other modes of transport will triumph. Then begins the hegemony of the railroad. In 1849, work was completed on the Gare de Lyon, the last major Parisian station to emerge.

  • Paris
  • photography
  • Harbor
  • industrial Revolution
  • Napoleon III


Pierre DELFAUD, Claude GERARD, Pierre GUILLAUME, Jean-Alain LE SOURDNew economic storyParis, Armand Colin, 1985 Isabelle BACKOUCHE, The Trace of the River, the Seine and Paris (1750-1850), Paris, Editions de l'E.H.E.S.S., 2000. Pierre DELFAUD, Claude GERARD, Pierre GUILLAUME and Jean-Alain LE SOURD, New economic story, Paris, Armand Colin, 1985. Georges DUBY (dir.), History of urban France, volume IV, “The City of the Industrial Age”, by Maurice AGULHON, Françoise CHOAY, Maurice CRUBELLIER, Yves LEQUIN and Marcel RONCAYOLO, Paris, Le Seuil, 1983, re-ed. “Points Histoire”, 1998. Marc GAILLARD , Paris in the 19th century, Paris, A.G.E.P., 1991. Jacques HILLAIRET, Historical dictionary of the streets of Paris, Paris, Éditions de Minuit, 1985.

To cite this article

Bernard COLOMB, "Paris: the port of the Town Hall"

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