The Art of Rebellion is fiction. However, the places visited in the novel really exist. On three different visits to France, I was able to create a plausible journey for my heroine, Gabrielle, and have chosen some images to guide you, the reader, through turn-of-the-century Laval and Paris.
What did Laval or Paris really look like in 1900? Check out the photos, maps and links to cool websites to discover Laval, Gabbi’s home town, and the City of Lights, as Paris was known, of La Belle Epoque. And, if you are really tempted to walk in Gabbi’s footsteps, I’ve included maps of Paris, with significant locations marked, for your guidance.
A city even back in 1900, Laval is only 283 kilometres (a ten hour train ride in 1900) away from Paris. My main character, Gabrielle, was born into a bourgeoisie family (upper-middle class), on the rue d’Avesnieres and near the old medieval sections of the city, including the old castle and chateau, and a short walk from the church. (same street as my real grandmother, Carmen Gabrielle, lived on).
Here’s a painting from the mid-1800’s of Laval, depicting the old castle, bridge over the Mayenne and the lock and weir on the river.
(Below) A similar view, but in a photograph I took in 2007. La Grande Rue, vue du Vieux Pont: the 12th century castle (see also, below) and 16th century chateau, looming over the River Mayenne.
One more view of what remains of the castle walls:
(Below) Basilique Notre-Dame d’Avesnieres, a Roman/Gothic basilica (a Catholic church of significant historical meaning), which was built between the 12th and 14th centuries. Also the site of a crucial scene in the novel…
You can bicycle or walk over 85 kilometres along the Mayenne, on the original tow paths that are now a nature preserve and extend from the city of Mayenne, through Laval and south through Chateau-Gontier to the bridge of Daon. Alternatively, one can rent a power boat and navigate the system of weirs and locks developed in the mid-1800s to improve commercial travel on the river.
LAVAL has many other sights, including a preserved section of the medieval city; public gardens (Le Jardin de la Perrine); museums, including one devoted to “Primitive” art, which style is credited to Laval artist Henri Rousseau (1884 – 1910). Follow this link to discover more of Laval: http://www.laval-tourisme-uk.com (English version).
PARIS in 1900 was already a city of approximately two million people. The capital of France, it overshadowed all other urban centres and was truly regarded as the centre of art for the entire world. If you wanted to be recognized as an artist, you absolutely had to study and exhibit at the annual Paris Salon. Here’s a map from 1900, with the main monuments and boulevards marked (source – http://www.oldmapsofparis.com). Gabbi’s story unfolds across Paris, from her arrival at Gare Montparnasse in the South, across the Seine, and up to the northern arrondissement of Montmartre. See how many locations you can pick out from the novel, on this map.
Paris hosted the Exposition Universalle (World Expo) in 1900. It was an extravagant display of science, technology, the arts and cultural highlights. According to most accounts, over 50 million people visited the Expo. The fair grounds covered a large area on either side of the Eiffel Tower (over 277 acres in all). The Grande Roue that Gabbi and Philippe rode was, at the time, the largest Ferris wheel in the world. At night, during the Expo, the Eiffel Tower was lit up in red, white and blue lights. The map of the grounds, below, is from the Brooklyn Museum. Many more images from the 1900 expo can be found at: http://lartnouveau.com/belle_epoque/paris_expo_1900.
Paris is divided up into districts, or arrondissements. While many of the events in the novel take place near famous monuments in the city, most of the action is in MONTMARTRE, where Gabbi lives with Babette in the 18th arrondissement. Here is a map of Montmartre with major streets and monuments marked (map by S. Osterdal).
The centrepiece of Montmartre is the Basilique du Sacre-Coeur, (photo below), a beautiful white church that resembles a wedding cake (in my imagination!), situated in the highest point of Paris. It was built between 1885 and 1914, its architecture characterized as Romano/Byzantine. Scaffolding covered much of the facade in 1900 but it was already in use for masses and other church functions.
The Lapin Agile (below), the cabaret where Babette introduces Gabbi to absinthe and to other art students, still stands at the corner of rue St.Vincent and rue de Saules. It was originally named the Cabaret des Assassins and was a favourite haunt for many struggling writers and artists in Montmartre.
Rue Gabrielle really does exist, as does Place du Tertre, where artists still gather. You can have your portrait painted if you have enough euros in your pocket!
Gabbi’s grandmother’s address actually exists also, at 12 rue Cortot. One of the oldest houses in Montmartre, it served as artists’ studios and apartments for artists such as Auguste Renoir, Suzanne Valadon and Maurice Utrillo. The building now houses the Musee de Montmartre. For more on the museum and its history, see http://www.museedemontmartre.fr.
Naturally, as an artist, the Louvre Museum was on the top of Gabbi’s must-see list, as it is for anyone visiting Paris. The Louvre’s history as a fortress (late 12th century) a royal palace (from the mid-1500’s) and then finally as a public museum (1793 onwards) is fascinating, and I encourage readers to discover more about the Louvre, either on its official website at http://www.louvre.fr/en (English version) or by reading one of many excellent reference books about the museum. Below are a few photos I took when last visiting the Louvre, including the Wedding Feast at Cana by Veronese, and The Valencon Bather by Ingres, both discussed by Gabbi and Philippe in the novel.
Notre Dame Cathedral is another icon of Paris. Situated on an island in the Seine, Ile de la Cite, the cathedral dates back to 1163 when construction began and wasn’t completed until 1272, over one hundred years later. The building has undergone significant modifications and renovations in the 17th and 18th centuries, as well as in modern times.
Naturally, I can’t omit the iconic symbol of Paris, the Eiffel Tower. By 1900, when Gabbi first saw it from Montmartre, it was lit up at nights in patriotic colors of red, blue and white. The tower was designed by the architect Gustave Eiffel for the 1889 World Expo, complete with elevators, a private apartment for M. Eiffel and several restaurants. From 1900 until 1914, Parisians set their watches according to a cannon fired from the Eiffel Tower every day at noon.Originally intended as a temporary exhibit, it was to be demolished in 1909 but saved by the city officials and is now one of the most visited structures in the world. Curious to learn more about the Tower? Try www.history.com/topics/eiffel-tower or http://www.toureiffel.paris. Here is a public domain image of the Eiffel Tower as it was in 1889 (The Art Archive / Musée Carnavalet Paris / Dagli Orti.)
There is so much more to see of Paris but I had to stop somewhere…I hope you are able to explore it yourself. If you do, please send me some of your photos!