Let’s walk together into this narrow, damp, and dark street which joins the place Saint-André-des-Arts to the rue de La Harpe and which is named rue Poupée. Having walked half-way down this street, we’ll stop at number 7, in front of an old house recently color washed, and even oil-painted. Old age makes it lean a little, but have no fear, the foundations are strong. It was built in a time when architects still thought their work should last for more than one generation. Let’s admit it, though: if our forefathers had the good sense not to suffocate in some bijou apartments, they had no notion of what we call comfortable. These apartments are large and well-ventilated, but how steep and dangerous the stairs that lead to them! So the wife of Mr. Chairman used to rest her cute little hand on this crude iron banister, her pretty feet tread without fear or hesitation these damp tiles. Our ladies today wouldn’t bring themselves to live in such a house. Everywhere does the upper middle class leave its old dwellings to the working-class. Financiers, magistrates, and lawyers are giving place to industry.
Industry needs room indeed, it can barely make itself comfortable in these vast reception rooms of yesteryear. Take a look at the engraving workshop of L’Illustration: every seat is taken, everywhere the light comes through, it is avidly cut off by a group of artists upon whom the master keeps a relentless watching eye. In the evening, the tables near the windows are given up, the engravers—who are all required, in turn, to work through the night—gather around the circular tables regularly lining the room. It is a most curious sight. The beams of the large lamp which stands at the center of each table go through glass globes filled with water, casting such a bright light upon the hands, the faces, the burins and the woodblocks of every engraver that all the rest of the room seems plunged in deep darkness. Dazzled, one gropes along toward these radiant beacons. It looks as one of the most colorful of Rembrandt’s paintings.
Image source: L’Illustration vol. III. Paris: J.-J. Dubochet, 1844.