19th-century French Architecture

Second Empire, 1852 - 1870

The Second Empire sought to set 
its mark on Paris more than any 
previous regime. Napoleon III 
acted quickly, aware that his 
empire was under constant 
political threat and unlikely to 
survive his death unless its 
institutions could be firmly 
rooted. Representative buildings 
were seen as one means of making 
imperial institutions look 
permanent. In some cases, the 
government chose to complete 
previous achievements, as in its 
massive extension of the Louvre 
between 1837 and 1857. In others, 
it created something completely 
new, like the new opera house 
commissioned in 1861. Political 
objectives made it necessary for 
most public buildings to adopt an 
architecture style which stressed 
continuity and associations with 
great reigns of the past, notably 
those of Louis XIV and Napoleon I. 
The need to attract royalist, 
Orleanist and republican, as well 
as imperialist, support justified 
a variety of styles, all of which 
could be designated Îmodernâ in 
the parlance of the time. Fine new 
public buildings could suggest 
that French modernization was 
proceeding successfully, and that 
an imperial regime could provide 
constant security and guidance. 
During the Second Empire, 
architectural production in Paris 
expanded to unprecedented levels. 
The Second Empire had shaped and 
reshaped Paris more energetically 
than any previous regime. Its 
aesthetic norms, however, were 
developments of an older, 
classical tradition.
Louvre Op*ra
19th-century Frence: Architecture / Decorative Arts and Design