Reading the city : an examination of the parallels between Charles Meryon's Eaux-fortes sur Paris and the Tales of Edgar Allan Poe
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Charles Meryon is considered to be among the most skilled etchers in the history of French printmaking. Born in 1821, Meryon reached professional maturity during the French etching revival. His most ambitious and well-known project is his Eaux-fortes sur Paris (1850-1854), a suite of 22 etchings comprising twelve large views of Parisian landmarks and ten smaller prints of poems and other images. What is perhaps most remarkable about Meryon's representations of Paris is that they seem to show objective, detailed views of the city while also conveying the artist's subjective, uncanny perceptions of it. This tension between the real and the metaphysical is often interpreted as an indication of Meryon's mental illness, which was well known by critics of his time. One of the most frequently touched on but least developed themes in the scholarship on Meryon is his connection with Edgar Allan Poe, who was widely read and embraced in France beginning in the 1840s. The first French translation of Poe's work was published in 1844 and by the time that Meryon began the Eaux-Fortes suite, several of Poe's short stories had been translated in French journals and newspapers. Meryon began the suite in 1850, just a year after Poe's death, and had completed at least the first state of all of the etchings by 1854. Meryon's suite, like Poe's tales, has an ominous mood and, when considered as a whole, tells a story of a city haunted by corruption and evil and by its own history. In his depictions of the city's architecture and landscape, Meryon penetrates beneath Paris's surface into what he sees as its character and his treatment of his subject aligns closely with Edgar Allan Poe's representations of the modern world. The urban environment's metaphysical underpinnings that are evident in Meryon's Eaux-Fortes sur Paris merit a thorough examination, and a consideration of Meryon's representation in conjunction with Edgar Allan Poe's tales that were popular in France during the years in which Meryon was working makes it possible to put Meryon's work and his perceptions of Paris into a larger context.