The Eiffel Tower
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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 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.
Leconte de Lisle
Alexandre Dumas Fils
Gustave Eiffel’s Response
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".