As it was for many literary and artistic figures of the day, the Eiffel Tower, built for the Exposition Universelle de Paris of 1889, became a symbol of modernity for Robert Delaunay (b. 1885, Paris; d. 1941, Montpellier, France). Delaunay envisioned breaking down boundaries and transforming Europe into a global community, and the Eiffel Tower, in its capacity as a radio tower, embodied international communications. He first painted the tower in celebration of his engagement to fellow artist Sonia Terk in 1909 and would make it the subject of at least thirty works over the next few years and again in the 1920s.
Delaunay’s early treatments of the Eiffel Tower use a limited palette and simple blocklike forms. Centrally located within each of the compositions, the Eiffel Tower assumes the iconic drama of a portrait. The more dynamic representation of Eiffel Tower with Trees signals a shift in the artist’s style. Delaunay showed the tower from several viewpoints, capturing and synthesizing several impressions at once. It is significant that this painting was executed when he was away from Paris, working from memory.
Eiffel Tower with Trees marks the beginning of Delaunay’s self-described “destructive” phase: the solid form in his earlier works becomes fragmented and begins to crumble. Delaunay chose a subject that allowed him to indulge his preference for a sense of vast space, atmosphere, and light, while evoking a sign of modernity and progress. Delaunay’s achievements in style represent a new century and its shift toward urbanization.
Many of Delaunay’s images are views from a window framed by curtains. In Eiffel Tower the buildings bracketing the tower curve like drapery. The vantage point of the window allows the Eiffel Tower series to combine exterior and interior spheres, and recalls a traditional, Romantic notion of the open window.
showing the class Robert Delaunay’s
paintings, project a photograph
Eiffel Tower. You may even be able to
photographs online. Robert
Delaunay is known to have owned more
one postcard with a photo of the Eiffel
Tower that he may have used
as a reference
for some of his paintings.
Ask students what they notice as well as what they know about the Eiffel Tower. You may want to provide some background information so that the students understand that the Eiffel Tower was not only an impressive architectural structure, but also a symbol of Parisian modernity.
Tower with Trees, 1910
How is Delaunay’s painting similar or different from the photograph of the Eiffel Tower? What adjectives would you use to describe this work?
- ShowEiffel Tower (1911) and Red
How are these works similar and different from each other? Which one do you prefer? Why?
- Over his lifetime Delaunay concentrated (some say obsessively) on particular places, painting them again and again. If you were to choose a place to explore again and again, where would you choose? Why?
Web site for the Eiffel Tower contains information on many
the landmark. To understand the importance that the
held for Parisians at the turn of the 20th century, go
construction of the Eiffel Tower was announced in 1888,
into an uproar. People didn’t want a hideous eyesore
like that in
their backyard. They called it a “metal monster” and
were sure that
it would fall on their homes and crush them (Susan Goldman Rubin, There Goes the Neighborhood: Ten
People Love to Hate, [New York:
Holiday House, Inc.,
2001], p. 17).
No one guessed that it would
become a beloved symbol of France.
But in 1889 when the Paris
Exposition opened, it was the Eiffel
Tower that attracted the most
visitors and soon became an
Many groundbreaking ideas were initially criticized, but eventually embraced by the public. Do you know examples of art, literature, architecture, inventions, or ideas that initially prompted public criticism, but eventually won acceptance? What are they? Why do you think they were criticized?
- In addition to Robert Delaunay, many
other artists, including Marc
Chagall (1887–1985), Pablo Picasso,
Henri Rousseau (1844–1910),
and Georges Seurat (1859–1891), painted
the Eiffel Tower in their
different styles. Look at paintings by
these artists featuring the
Eiffel Tower. How are they similar or
different from Delaunay’s
In addition to painters, writers
and poets have found the Eiffel
Tower and Delaunay’s paintings of it
to be inspiring. The last few
lines of Blaise Cendrars’s (1887–1961)
poem "Tower," written in
August 1913 and
dedicated to Robert Delaunay, reads:
You are everything
Subject of my poem
Tower of the world
Tower in motion
Discuss this excerpt and how it relates to both the Eiffel Tower and Delaunay’s paintings of it. Then create a poem for a place that is special to you. To whom will you dedicate your poem? Why?