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Portland Art Museum exhibit timely in wake of Notre Dame fire; it opens June 8, and it'll about the city's growth at the turn of the 20th century, while it also felt stable because of historical places

COURTESY: PORTLAND ART MUSEUM - Louise Abbema's painting 'Allegory of the City of Paris' will greet visitors to the Portland Art Museum's upcoming 'Paris 1900: City of Entertainment.' The city leans on its history often, and it's why watching Notre Dame cathedral hurt so much.The horrific images of Notre Dame cathedral burning and its spire collapsing were captured all over the world, and certainly not lost on the people at the Portland Art Museum.

"It was a physical sensation," says Mary Weaver Chapin, the museum's curator of prints and drawings. "Like being kicked in the stomach."

In the middle of preparing an exhibit about Paris, the museum folks took pause to reflect on what the 1,000-year-old Roman Catholic cathedral meant to the City of Lights. But one image from the "Paris 1900" exhibit, set to show June 8-Sept. 8, endures.

The Louise Abbema painting shows an elegant woman representing Paris dressed in the latest couture riding on the brow of a ship on the Seine River, with the words "fluctuat nec mergitur" chiseled into the framework. It loosely means "rocked by the waves, but does not sink" — the city's motto.

Translation: Paris has been hit by tragedy before, but it'll recover from the great fire of 2019.

"Paris is a resilient city, with resilient citizens, which gives me great hope for the rebuilding of Notre Dame," Chapin says.

The 1901 painting "Allegory of the City of Paris" represented a modern interpretation of the city's traditional emblems. And it's certainly applicable today.

The "Paris 1900: City of Entertainment" exhibit will specifically address the Belle Epoque, the period of peace and prosperity between the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 and the start of World War I in 1914, an industrial age of growth and changing society and the World's Fair of 1900.

Change at the dawn of the 20th century included arts, engineering such as the Eiffel Tower construction, technology as with the Metro public transit system, terrorism/anarchy and the use of bicycles by men and women alike.

All the while, the Notre Dame cathedral sat in the center of Paris as one of the city's foundations.

"It's at the heart of the city, and the city radiates around it," Chapin says. "It's a visual touchpoint and for hundreds of years the heart, literally and metaphorically, of the great city. It's a real sign of the enduring history.

"Paris is a very old city — you can still find Roman ruins within city walls — and you have this momentum that has changed things over time."

There are stories of construction lasting decades, and "there's this idea of a collective spirit among the anonymous workers who dedicated their lives over generations" to Notre Dame.

As Parisians, Roman Catholics and admirers around the world watched their monument — and the past — burn, there was an immediate promise to rebuild — sort of like the change going on in 1900 Paris.

"There was this age-old monument, but at the same time they were razing medieval neighborhoods to put in grand boulevards," Chapin says. "Seeing Notre Dame as a constant was always soothing."

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