Home  /  Everything about the Tower

Debate and Controversy Surrounding the Eiffel Tower

Everything about the Tower

 

Even before the end of its construction, the Tower was already at the heart of much debate. Enveloped in criticism from the biggest names in the world of Art and Literature, the Tower managed to stand its ground and achieve the success it deserved.

14th February 1887: the work had only just begun when along came the Artists’ Protest.

1889 Universal Exhibiion masque photo
1889 Exposition Universelle

Various pamphlets and articles were published throughout the year of 1886, le 14 février 1887, la protestation des Artistes.

The "Protest against the Tower of Monsieur Eiffel", published in the newspaper Le Temps, is addressed to the World's Fair's director of works, Monsieur Alphand. It is signed by several big names from the world of literature and the arts : Charles Gounod, Guy de Maupassant, Alexandre Dumas junior, François Coppée, Leconte de Lisle, Sully Prudhomme, William Bouguereau, Ernest Meissonier, Victorien Sardou, Charles Garnier and others to whom posterity has been less kind.

Other satirists pushed the violent diatribe even further, hurling insults like : "this truly tragic street lamp" (Léon Bloy), "this belfry skeleton" (Paul Verlaine), "this mast of iron gymnasium apparatus, incomplete, confused and deformed" (François Coppée), "this high and skinny pyramid of iron ladders, this giant ungainly skeleton upon a base that looks built to carry a colossal monument of Cyclops, but which just peters out into a ridiculous thin shape like a factory chimney" (Maupassant), "a half-built factory pipe, a carcass waiting to be fleshed out with freestone or brick, a funnel-shaped grill, a hole-riddled suppository" (Joris-Karl Huysmans). Once the Tower was finished the criticism burnt itself out in the presence of the completed masterpiece, and in the light of the enormous popular success with which it was greeted. It received two million visitors during the World's Fair of 1889.

 


An extract from the "Protest against the Tower of Monsieur Eiffel".

Charles Gounod masque photo
Charles Gounod

""We come, we writers, painters, sculptors, architects, lovers of the beauty of Paris which was until now intact, to protest with all our strength and all our indignation, in the name of the underestimated taste of the French, in the name of French art and history under threat, against the erection in the very heart of our capital, of the useless and monstrous Eiffel Tower which popular ill-feeling, so often an arbiter of good sense and justice, has already christened the Tower of Babel. (...) Is the City of Paris any longer to associate itself with the baroque and mercantile fancies of a builder of machines, thereby making itself irreparably ugly and bringing dishonour ? (...)

To comprehend what we are arguing one only needs to imagine for a moment a tower of ridiculous vertiginous height dominating Paris,just like a gigantic black factory chimney, its barbarous mass overwhelming and humiliating all our monuments and belittling our works of architecture, which will just disappear before this stupefying folly.

And for twenty years we shall see spreading across the whole city, a city shimmering with the genius of so many centuries, we shall see spreading like an ink stain, the odious shadow of this odious column of bolted metal.

Charles Garnier masque photo
Charles Garnier
Leconte de Lisle masque photo
Leconte de Lisle
Alexandre Dumas Fils masque photo
Alexandre Dumas Fils

Gustave Eiffel’s Response

Gustave Eiffel masque photo
Gustave Eiffel

In an interview in the newspaper Le Temps of February 14 1887, Eiffel gave a reply to the artists' protest, neatly summing up his artistic doctrine.

"For my part I believe that the Tower will possess its own beauty. Are we to believe that because one is an engineer, one is not preoccupied by beauty in one's constructions, or that one does not seek to create elegance as well as solidity and durability ? Is it not true that the very conditions which give strength also conform to the hidden rules of harmony ? (...) Now to what phenomenon did I have to give primary concern in designing the Tower ? It was wind resistance. Well then ! I hold that the curvature of the monument's four outer edges, which is as mathematical calculation dictated it should be (...) will give a great impression of strength and beauty, for it will reveal to the eyes of the observer the boldness of the design as a whole. Likewise the many empty spaces built into the very elements of construction will clearly display the constant concern not to submit any unnecessary surfaces to the violent action of hurricanes, which could threaten the stability of the edifice. Moreover there is an attraction in the colossal, and a singular delight to which ordinary theories of art are scarcely applicable".

Going
UP