Riots! Floods! Gangsters! Art Heists! Louis Lépine Dealt With Them All

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Riots! Floods! Gangsters! Art Heists! Louis Lépine Dealt With Them All
Louis Lépine was a legendary figure from the Belle Époque whose name was inextricably tied with the city of Paris. Lépine was Prefect of Police for the city, although his popularity at the time was debatable. He quelled major riots, stopped an infamous group of anarchist gangsters, and investigated the theft of the Mona Lisa. He was responsible the modernization of the Paris police force and created an influential exhibition of inventions that still operates to this day. Born in Lyon in 1843, Louis Lépine was a student of law in his hometown and continued his studies in Paris and the German city of Heidelberg. He was awarded the Médaille Militaire for his bravery in in the Franco-Prussian War. After the conflict he became a lawyer and public administrator posted to various locations around France. Louis Lépine became Prefect of Police for the Seine region in 1893 during a volatile period in Paris’s history. The position was akin to that of a chief of police & emergency services with a degree of political influence as well. Lépine’s reputation for maintaining public order ensured he held this position for many years. Louis Lépine shortly before his retirement. Photo credit © Wikipedia, Public Domain Riots of the Bal des Quat’z’arts Lépine was originally brought on board in July of 1893 to take control of a serious student uprising. His predecessor had lost control of the situation. The Latin Quarter became the focus of four days of rioting, resulting from the deshabille of students at the annual ball of L’Ecole des Beaux-Arts. While showing their bohemian side, students attending the Bal des Quat’z’arts also showed too much skin, with many partygoers ending up naked in the streets. Artist-model Sarah Brown was the pivotal figure of an uprising that raged for days and resulted in one death and many injuries. Poster of the Quat’Z’Arts ball in 1901, work by Ricardo Flores. Photo credit © Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 The Bal des Quat’z’Arts was named for the four traditional arts – architecture, painting, sculpture and engraving – and this was only the second year it was held. At the Moulin Rouge students set up elaborate tableaux where their model friends acted out the roles of historical and mythological characters. They used the rhetoric of “high art” to justify any decadence that might ensue.

Lead photo credit : The return of the Mona Lisa at the Louvre. Photo credit © Wikipedia

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A freelance writer and amateur historian, Hazel knew she wanted to focus on the lives of French artists and femme fatales after an epiphany at the Musée d'Orsay. A life-long learner, she is a recent graduate of Art History from the University of Toronto. Now she is searching for a real-life art history mystery to solve.


  • Julia FREY
    2021-03-14 03:04:05
    Julia FREY
    Dear Hazel Smith, I loved this article! And I have a real-life art history mystery for you to solve. I discuss it in the Prologue to my recent book, "Venus Betrayed, the Private World of Edouard Vuillard" (2019, Reaktion Books, London. Available at the Red Wheelbarrow, the Musée dOrsay, the Louvre, etc.) If you'll contact me personally, I'll be happy to share with you what I know about it.


    • Hazel Smith
      2021-03-26 07:28:28
      Hazel Smith
      Hi again Julia. I bought your book and read it cover to cover after you sent me some pages on Misia. We had a bit of a back and forth conversation and also I read your book on HTL Will send you a message.


    • Sylvia Gerson
      2021-03-17 01:03:20
      Sylvia Gerson
      Hi Julia Wonderful surprise seeing your name after all this time! Please share your art history mystery with me! You may remember that Don and I rented both of your apartments several times (was it rue Mabillon?). Sadly, Don passed away 3 yrs ago after difficult bout with Parkinson's. I have moved to San Diego, where both Lisa and Sam and his family live. Have not been to Paris for 5 yrs. and miss it. I would love to hear from you and reconnect via email, if not in person. Will order your latest book! Amicalement, Sylvia