Title page for ETD etd-06042012-104004

Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author Bowers, Paige
Author's Email Address paige@paigebowers.com
URN etd-06042012-104004
Title Building the Big Chief: Charles Garnier and the Paris of His Time
Degree Master of Arts (M.A.)
Department History
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Martin, Benjamin Committee Chair
Lindenfeld, David Committee Member
Marchand, Suzanne Committee Member
  • Garnier
  • Bourbon Restoration
  • July Monarchy
  • Second Empire
  • France
  • bourgeoisie
  • Paris Opera House
  • Reconstruction of Paris
  • Prix de Rome
Date of Defense 2012-05-15
Availability unrestricted
The Paris Opera House, or Palais Garnier, is known as the backdrop for

the Broadway musical Phantom of the Opera, which has been seen by more

than 100 million people worldwide since its debut a quarter-century

ago. Outside of France, more people know about the fictional phantom

Erik and his white mask than they do Charles Garnier, the building’s

real life architect. Based on substantial archival research at

Bibliothèque Nationale de France, the Bibliothèque-Musée de l’Opéra

and the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, this study presents

a rare biographical portrait of Garnier, whose rags-to-riches tale was

emblematic of a nineteenth-century Paris where opportunities abounded

for men of talent and drive.

Born the son of a blacksmith, Garnier was too sickly to follow in his

father’s professional footsteps. He took advantage of new educational

opportunities that taught him first how to read and write, then to

draw, then to be an architect. The award of a Prix de Rome in 1848

granted him five years to study, sketch and travel throughout Italy,

Greece and Turkey. Away from Paris, he stoked his ambitions, refined

his sensibilities and gained an appreciation for classical buildings

and art. Sifting through rubble with his bare hands at the Temple of

Aegina, the power of ancients seized his imagination. On his return to

Paris, his newly developed expertise enabled him to win the commission

to build the new Opera house which Napoleon III wanted to be the crown

jewel of his refurbished and modernized Paris. Garnier needed thirteen

years to complete the work, but when it was done, it stood

magnificent. Born in obscurity and poverty, Garnier was now wealthy

and the most famous architect in Europe.

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