In June 1878, in what must have been a painterly expression of his country’s independence, Claude Monet painted ‘Rue Saint-Denis, Celebration of June 30, 1878‘.
It symbolizes Bastille Day, the July 14 French National Day, ‘La Fête Nationale‘, a French celebration equal to our country’s July 4 Independence Day.
I wanted to capture that spirit, so I did a little watercolor sketch of the painting.
Rue Saint-Denis, Celebration of June 30, 1878, after Claude Monet
July 14, 2013 | 9 x 12 | watercolor | available
Monsieur Monet did not paint this painting in honor of La Fête Nationale. In fact, that day was not declared a national holiday until 1880. He painted it for a festival that year by the government celebrating peace and work. The French people had come a long way since they declared their independence, and found many ways to express it.
89 years earlier, on July 14, 1789, the people of Paris rose up against the monarchy and stormed the Bastille, a fortress-like prison which had often held people jailed simply on lettres de cachet, arbitrary royal indictments that could not be appealed. It was a symbol of the absolutism of the monarchy. What followed were years of strife, fear and terror in what would become the turning point in France’s history.
Today, the site of the Bastille prison is marked by a small square with a column. No vestige of the prison remains. The area is busy with cafes, bars and street vendors. We made a point to see it, but I was disappointed, having expected something more significant.
However, I didn’t know it at the time, but we probably walked down Rue Saint-Denis more than once. It’s located in the Les Halles district in the 1st arrondissement where our hotel was located. We strolled the many streets lined with restaurants, cafes, bakeries, fish stores, cheese shops, wine shops, produce stands and flower shops every day, and most likely stood on the very street Monsieur Monet depicted in his patriotic painting. How devine.
Which brings me to Bastille Day, France’s celebration equal to our July 4th, Independence Day. I’d like to be in Paris for that, but as Allan and I don’t like crowds, and celebrate our independence quietly at home on our deck, it’s unlikely we’ll ever do that. But it would be awesome just the same.
So instead I’ll think about what it would be like to watch incroyable fireworks exploding over the Eiffel Tower, and how the red, white and blue French flags buffeted the wind as we skimmed across the Seine River, and how if I were looking down on Rue Saint-Denis from my hotel room today, it might look very much like this painting.