Ohio University Press · Swallow Press ·

Paris on the Potomac
The French Influence on the Architecture and Art of Washington, D.C.

Edited by Cynthia R. Field, Isabelle Gournay, and Thomas P. Somma

“These essays are well researched, have ample footnotes, and are accompanied by many helpful black-and-white illustrations.”


“(Paris on the Potomac) is another consistently engaging and insightful collection of essays published as part of the Perspectives on the Art and Architectural History of the United States Capitol series.… As a whole, the collection underlies the importance of French-American amity and offers Washington, D.C.—as much a European city as an American one—as irrefutable evidence that space and place are occupied by politics and ideology as much as they are by people.”

The Journal of Southern History

“(Paris on the Potomac) responds to the question of how French architecture and decoration have affected the building of our nation’s capital from the days when George Washington and Pierre L’Enfant laid out a plan for the city’s design. For the reader who travels next to Washington, D.C., the quest to sight those French influences in city planning, architecture, and decoration will be inevitable.”

The French Review

”Beautifully produced, (Paris on the Potomac) is presumably offered as much to lovers of Washington, DC, as to a professional readership. Can it help general readers to ‘think historically’? Yes! The reader is immediately in good hands in the first essay.… Available in paperback for twenty-five dollars, this is a book I would buy for friends and family.”

Journal of the Early American Republic

In 1910 John Merven Carrère, a Paris-trained American architect, wrote, “Learning from Paris made Washington outstanding among American cities.” The five essays in Paris on the Potomac explore aspects of this influence on the artistic and architectural environment of Washington, D.C., which continued long after the well-known contributions of Peter Charles L’Enfant, the transplanted French military officer who designed the city’s plan.

Isabelle Gournay’s introductory essay provides an overview and examines the context and issues involved in three distinct periods of French influence: the classical and Enlightenment principles that prevailed from the 1790s through the 1820s, the Second Empire style of the 1850s through the 1870s, and the Beaux-Arts movement of the early twentieth century. William C. Allen and Thomas P. Somma present two case studies: Allen on the influence of French architecture, especially the Halle aux Blés, on Thomas Jefferson’s vision of the U.S. Capitol; and Somma on David d’Angers’s busts of George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette. Liana Paredes offers a richly detailed examination of French-inspired interior decoration in the homes of Washington’s elite in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Cynthia R. Field concludes the volume with a consideration of the influence of Paris on city planning in Washington, D.C., including the efforts of the McMillan Commission and the later development of the Federal Triangle complex.

The essays in this collection, the latest addition to the series Perspectives on the Art and Architectural History of the United States Capitol, originated in a conference held by the U.S. Capitol Historical Society in 2002 at the French Embassy’s Maison Française.

Cynthia R. Field is an architectural historian and the chair of the Office of Architectural History and Historic Preservation, associate director of the Office of Physical Plant at the Smithsonian Institution, and coauthor of The Castle: An Illustrated History of the Smithsonian Building.   More info →

Isabelle Gournay is an associate professor of architecture at the University of Maryland, College Park, and author of Le Nouveau Trocadéro and the AIA Guide to the Architecture of Atlanta.   More info →

Thomas P. Somma was the director of the Mary Washington University Galleries at Mary Washington University in Fredericksburg, Virginia. He is the author of The Apotheosis of Democracy, 1908–1916: The Pediment for the House Wing of the United States Capitol.   More info →

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In Series

Perspectives on the Art and Architectural History of the United States Capitol


Retail price: $32.95, S.
Release date: October 2007
208 pages · 7 × 10 in.
Rights:  World

Retail price: $55.00, S.
Release date: October 2007
208 pages · 7 × 10 in.
Rights:  World

Release date: October 2007
184 pages
Rights:  World

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