How Paris Was Painted in the Victorian Era

How Paris was painted in the Victorian Era: Charles Carroll Fulton
Charles Carroll Fulton, Public Domain

An American editor of the Baltimore American newspaper, visited Europe in the 1870s. His name was named Charles Carroll Fulton. During Fulton’s visit to Europe, one of the places he traveled to was Paris, France. While there he made several interesting observations. One interesting observation was how Paris was painted in the Victorian Era. Here are Fulton’s observations almost verbatim:

It would astonish some of our old house-painters of Baltimore if they could witness the manner in which the painters of Paris climb over the fronts of these six- and seven-story houses and paint them from roof to door-sill without the use of ladder, scaffold, or any other wooden contrivance, either for themselves or the paint-pots. One man, without assistance of any kind, can paint the entire front of one of these tall houses in two or three days.

Directly opposite our quarters, a six-story building, fronting about eighty feet is undergoing a complete renovation, and the painting of the entire walls has been accomplished by two youths, apparently not over nineteen years of age. They are each provided with a rope about an inch in diameter, extending from the apex of the roof to the pavement, on which knits, one foot apart, are made throughout its entire length. By means of an apparatus with straps, clamps, and hooks, to which is appended a board on which they sit, and stirrups to rest the feet in which are strapped to their legs, they move up and down the rope with great rapidity and apparent ease. They move the clamps from knot to knot, and without changing the position of the rope are enabled to paint about six feet on either side of them. Their smaller brushes are stuck in little loops appended to the seat, and the paint-pot is suspended by a smaller rope, on which it is fastened by a spring of some kind, and is raised or lowered with ease as they may desire. Long practice has given them great agility, and they move up or down, and pirouette and oscillate along the front, with a great deal more ease than if they were on ladders. They use brushes for most of their painting nearly double the size of those used in America, and make rapid progress with their work.

Parisian painters
Caillebotte’s “The House Painters,” 1877. Private Collection.

House-painting in Paris is a very extensive business, as a periodical renovation of the house is rendered imperative by law, no one being allowed to disfigure a neighborhood by presenting stained and darkened walls. The houses being all built of a soft cream-colored sandstone, many of the finer structures, instead of being painted, are red-dressed by the stone-cutter and come out, after undergoing the process of scraping and scrubbing, as if fresh from the quarry. In alluding to the amount of work these lads perform in a day, it should be understood that they commence work at six o’clock in the morning and stop at seven o’clock in the evening, twelve hours being a day’s work among the mechanics in Paris.

References:

  • Fulton, Charles Carroll, Europe Viewed Through American Spectacles, 1874

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