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   Les Halles 1898 by Leon Lhermitte                Petit Palais, Fine Art Museum
                                                                                                    

The
Luxembourg
The Terror Comes to Les Carmes
It's difficult to believe that the Luxembourg Palace was built in 1615 - 1645 - from the garden side it looks as if it was built yesterday.  However, for a true picture of how the building looked when it was first built then its necessary to approach it from the side which is the true frontage, no. 36 rue Vaugiraud, which happens to be the longest street in Paris.  There is another frontage  a short distance along the road which has historical connections with the Luxembourg - no.70, rue du Vaugiraud is a rather nondescript building which is easily overlooked by passers-by but the bloody events within its walls are still remembered within the contexts of the French Revolution.  The monastery of Les Carmes was built in 1611, some years before the Luxembourg existed, in what was then a pastoral countryside.  Despite the monastery having a long-standing reputation in the area for charitable works, on the 11th August, 1792, the Revolutionary Tribunal decreed that a number of ecclestiastical prisoners were to be detained there under the surveillance of the National Guard.  The prisoners found some relief in daily strolls around the gardens but on 2nd September, 1792, their guards suddenly turned on them in a murderous attack which saw the Archbishop of Arles and 20 priests hacked to death without any mercy shown - it was the first day of the September Massacres in Paris.  Five of the priests managed to climb the statue of a monk and from there clambered over the walls to safety.
When a leader of the Tribunal managed to put a halt to the slaughter it was thought that the priests' ordeal had ended but it was not for any aesthetic reasons the Tribunal leader had halted proceedings but simply because he wanted there to be a "fair trial."  The Revolutionary Tribunal which was set up behind a refectory table was a mockery of justice with the priests brought to the table two by two where they were duly sentenced to death for "crimes against the people."  From the desk the priests were ordered down a corridor which opened onto five steps which led into the garden; few of the priests made it down the steps, which were slippy with blood, as they were immediately hacked to death by the frenzied sans-culottes.  By the time the grotesque judicial process had been completed more than 170 bodies remained stacked in the garden overlooked by a statue of the Virgin Mary and not one of those "judged" had been set free.   
L'escalier des martyrs -Les Carmes 
But the Revolutionaries had not yet finished with Les Carmes and in December, 1793, a new batch of prisoners began to arrive; aristocrats and so-called enemies of the state, they included a variegated number of "citoyens" including the Duchesse de  Richelieu, the Prince de Salm, Antoine Joseph Santerre, the "general" of the Revolutionaries who had led the mob which massacred the Swiss Guard in the Tuileries gardens and had led Louis XVI to the scaffold, the Marquis de Sade, several domestic servants and Guillaume Loison, the proprietor of the Punch and Judy show on the Champs Ėlysées. 
In the spring of 1793 a new group of prisoners arrived and with them came général Alexander de Beauharnais, the husband of Josephine and the father of Eugène and Hortense who would all become part of the Napoleonic legend in years to come.  When Josephine made overtures to the Revolutionary Tribunal to show her husband mercy she was herself immediately thrown into the same prison.  Although the 10 year old Hortense and the 12 year old Eugène were distraught at the imprisonment of their parents and spent each day trying to glimpse them through the bars, Beauharnais and Josephine made the most of their confinement, Josephine began a liaison with général Hoche while her husband was comforted by a certain Delphine de Sabran.  Significantly, Josephine also met a certain Thérésa Tallien while in Les Carmes ; Thérésa was married to Jean-Lambert Tallien whose influence with the Convention secured her release.  Although the amoral Josephine was comforted by Hoche, it was still a shock when her husband was sent to the scaffold and she began to fear for her own life.  With her trial only days away and Josephine sinking into a trough of despair (her name can still be seen inscribed on the walls of her cell)  she was suddenly released; Thérésa Tallien had persuaded her husband to secure her release.  Josephine and Thérésa   remained life-long friends.
Jean-Lambert Tallien denouncing Danton and Robespierre
The Terror Comes to the Luxembourg Palace 
As the Revolution proceeded on its bloody way the various political factions turned on each other and in the autumn of 1793 the Luxembourg had been turned into a prison detaining more than 800 prisoners of every stripe.  Among the political prisoners were Georges Danton who had been conspicuous in every aspect of the Revolution and Camille Desmoulins who famously harangued the mob in the Palais Royale leading to the storming of the Bastille.  Desmoulins' plight was particularly heart-rending as he realized too late that his cherished ideals of a Revolution had been hijacked by a frenzied mob of sadistic killers - his situation was made even more poignant as each day his wife walked beneath his window to show him their newborn baby.  In keeping with the vagaries of the deranged world of the Convention, Cloderlos de Laclos, the author of Les Liaisons Dangereuses, was also imprisoned along with Jacques-Louis David, the neo-classicist artist who had always been a fervent supporter of the Revolution; David whiled away his time in prison by painting the only corner of the Luxembourg gardens he could see - it was the only landscape he ever painted.
By 1795, according to the manic lottery which passed for justice, prisoners such as Danton and Desmoulins had gone to the scaffold while others such as David had been released.  The Luxembourg Palace had passed from a prison into the luxurious surroundings of one of the five members of the Directory, Paul Barras, who was above all things a survivor - Barras' mistress who he showed off at his parties was another survivor - Josephine de Beauharnais.  It was at one of these parties that Josephine met her future husband - when Barras tired of Josephine, he passed her on to a 25 year old Napoleon Bonaparte, about to make his name as the head of the army of Italy.  
Josephine went from prison to Empress within a  few short years.
The Luxembourg Gardens
It is quite incredible that the Luxembourg Palace and gardens were constructed as long ago as 1612 as both palace and gardens look amazingly pristine.  It is also quite incredible that such breathtaking models of art and architecture should have been instigated by Marie de Medicis (1573 - 1642) who was known as a ruthless politician and to a great degree responsible for the notorious St Bartholomew Massacres of 1572.  Over the years the Palace itself has had different masters, from the comte de Provence, the brother of Louis XVI and future King of France, to Paul Barras and the Directory, a Revolutionary prison and today is the property of the French Senate.  The Palace is modelled after the Pitti Palace in Florence and the gardens after places that Marie de Medicis knew in Florence as a child.  If there is one place in the gardens which can described as essentially Florentine it is the shady grotto known as the Medici Fountain which manages to be slightly sinister and charming at the same time.  Interestingly, there is another quite different fountain behind the Medici sculpture of Polyphemus from a different era altogether - the Fountain of Leda and the Swan which stood on the corner of rue Vaugiraud and rue du Regard in 1806.  When the Haussman building works were going on in Paris the rue de Rennes was about to run straight through the fountain until it was rescued by the engineer responsible for sculpture in the city and placed at the back of the Medici for safety.  The rue de Rennes also sliced off  a portion of the Les Carmes monastery and the rue d'Assas cut off another portion
Marie de Medici's original garden has over the years evolved and changed as gardens do; strangely, the Revolutionaries who usually specialised in changing political landscapes one one occasion went into changing garden landscapes and ended up extending the Luxembourg to the south up to the Observatory.  It has to be said that the Directory's landscaping began with the destruction of the convent of Chartreux which stood on the site and was probably an afterthought to the razing to the ground of another religious property - it is ironic that Les Carmes was saved from being demolished by its use as a Revolutionary prison.
Note contemporary picture of the lion with 19th century painting
Although the gardens were always safe prostitutes often plied their trade.
As the years of turmoil passed into history the gardens gradually changed until they became a favourite haunt of Parisians where small boys sailed boats, ladies fed sparrows, the poet Gérard de Nerval walked his pet lobster and people sunbathed or studied strolled the gravel paths. The July Revolution had a major impact on the gardens when Louis Philippe began to take an interest in their well- being.  The July Revolution should not be confused with the French Revolution - in the sometimes complicated ways of French politics Charles X was overthrown and Louis Philippe became a constitutional King of the French from 1830 until 1848.  The riots and street-fighting which brought about that change were witnessed by a 30 year old Victor Hugo and played a large part in his magnum opus Les Misérables which was published in 1862 - Les Misérables  is similar to War and Peace in that everybody knows it but nobody has read it, not to the end anyway - but  I have the privilege of having read both volumes many years ago and been entranced by the monumental novel long before the musical was ever thought of.  Hugo knew the Luxembourg well and it was here that he set the scene for one of his set-pieces when Marius falls in love with Cosette ; as a study of jealousy it is both comic and clever:
For weeks now this Marius has made his way each day to the Luxembourg  and always he sits glancing surreptitiously  {or so he thinks } at Cosette and her grandfather who are always to be found on the seat beneath the statue of the Gladiator.  Hopelessly enamoured of her beauty and charm this Lord of the barricades, so fervent and martial in speech and style  is struck dumb by a slip of a girl and so obviously terrified to approach the object of his affections. 
His propriety towards Cosette is laughable given that he has never so much as said good-day to her and I have watched him bristle if someone of the male gender even glances in her direction.  Only the other day, he revealed the depth of his feelings in an incident so trivial to others but of great import to him.  A passing zephyr blew at her skirts revealing a shapely ankle and Marius with clenched fists and a face like thunder leapt off his bench daring the whole of Paris to look even though there was nobody within 100 metres.
In these past few weeks I have seen a side to him that reveals clearly that his passionate nature extends not only to revolution but is present in every facet of his personality. The man is a slave to his passions and I fear for the consequences.
                                                                                        Les Misérables Chapter VIII
                                

Cosette, Valjean and Marius
The reason why the Luxembourg changed so much when Louis Philippe came to the throne is mainly because he added scores of statues to the gardens.  Twenty of Louis Philippes' statues are situated overlooking the round pond and are unique in that they are all French Queens, most of them, apart from Mary Queen of Scots obscure to most English people.  And as glorious as they all are gleaming in the sunshine, the statues which have been added to the gardens since are much more interesting with the numbers swelled to over 100, making the Luxembourg as much a plein-air sculpture garden as anything else. 
The statue on the left of Marie de Medici is typical of the remaining Queens, all of them standing on plinths, looking magistrial.
it is out of the question to show all of the statues here but the following are a number of my own favourites
It's really quite strange to come across a miniaturized version of the Statue of Liberty tucked away beneath the trees on the western side of the garden but there is is in all its glory.  The sculptor of the original Liberty which stands overlooking Manhattan, Auguste Bertholdi (1834 - 1904) sculpted a smaller version for the Exposition Universelle of 1900 and presented it to the Luxembourg in 1905 where it remained until quite recently when in June 2016 it was removed to grace the atrium of the Musée D'Orsay.  The statue of Liberty which stands in the Luxembourg is now a replica.

There is another Statue of Liberty in Paris which is very much larger, upriver of the Seine on a man-made island called the Île aux Cygnes.  The Statue was placed there in 1889 just three years after the original was presented to America in 1886.  The Île aux Cygnes was a favourite walk of Samuel Becket who lived nearby, it has featured in National Treasure; Book of Secrets and can be seen at the end of Roman Polanski's Frantic.

Although I don't care for Watteau's paintings I particularly like this Monument to Watteau sited in 1896 because the lady placing flowers on the sculpture appears so lifelike.
There is a lot more to the Luxembourg and it can be quite tiring which may be one reason why tourists rarely venture to the southern end of the gardens.  After a few hours of wandering round the gardens where the gravel reflects the sunlight making it very hot it is tempting to believe that the parterre of trees and the shady path beyond lead you nowhere in particular.  However, just the opposite is true which I hope to illustrate on the next page.