09 August 2014

Cote d'Azure: This Too Was The Summer Of 1914

In the summer of 1914 Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel (1832-1923) was eighty-one years old.  In his long career as an engineer and architect he had experienced monumental successes (the Garabit Viaduct in the Massif Central [1882] and the Eiffel Tower without which Paris would not be Paris [1889]) and a humiliating defeat in the long drawn out scandal that was the French Panama Canal Company.   Although Eiffel had just  engineered the first wind tunnel in Paris on Rue Boileau in 1912, he devoted his later years mostly to more theoretical projects.

Eiffel had been born on the Cote d'Azur and he  returned there in 1896, settling at Beaulieur-sur-Mer, a coastal Mediterranean village near Nice and Monte Carlo.   A widower since the death of his beloved wife Marie Guadelet, Eiffel lived at Villa Durandy (photograph at left) where he was often visited by his five children.  Indeed, his daughter Claire lived nearby at Villa Salles with her husband Georges.

Georges Salles (1889-1966) was a French art historian who made important archeological excavations in Iran, Afghanistan, and China.  In 1926, Salles would join the Musée du Louvre, where he became curator of Asian Art and helped to organize the first exposition of Byzantine art in 1931.    Ten years later, Salles became the director of the Musee Guimet. While there, he joined in the French resistance to the Nazi occupation of France during World War II.  Salles was later credited by art historian Kenneth Clark with saving many works of art from looting or destruction in wartime.  Both Picasso and Matisse painted his portrait.

But that was all in the future in the summer of 1914. The Salles were a young married couple, enjoying a summer idyll by the sea.  Many of those who lived through that summer later averred that the weather was perfect and, looking at these pictures of summer  at Villa Salles, who would dare to argue?  Fixed forever (or as close one can get using the unstable grains of starch employed in autochrome photography) the Cote d'Azur has never appeared more heavenly.  Eiffel, Claire, Ninette Salles, and Georges captured together at the click of a shutter.  Did they have any inkling of the frantic diplomacy taking place in the capitals of Europe?  Too much testimony as to the impossibility of war has been given for us to think that Georges Salles had any idea that he would return from battle four years later as  the recipient two times of the Croix de guerre.  For the time being the elegant double-masted schooner was not a ship of war.

The allee of the palm trees.

Ninette in the Japanese garden.

All are by "unidentified photographer", autochromes from the collection of the Musee d'Orsay, Paris.


Tania said...

Peace images, more precious than everything.

Thérèse said...

Such wonderful pictures retracing some past moments.

Jane said...

Tania, auotchrome makes everything it captures look magical. Precious, indeed.

Jane said...

Therese, I had to do some digging to figure out who these people were, but the pictures were so intriguing that I wanted to know. I'm glad you like them.