Carl Landauer


Katherine Fischer Taylor, In the Theater of Criminal Justice: The Palais de Justice in Second Empire Paris. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993. Pp. xxii, 161. $35.00.

"A drawing-room in Second Empire style. A massive bronze ornament stands on the mantelpiece." With these two sentences, Jean- Paul Sartre set the stage for his No Exit. Despite the fact that Hell has "no need for red-hot pokers" since "Hell is-other people," it nevertheless suited his vision that Hell be decorated after the tastes of the Second Empire. The Second Empire, with its massive bronze ornaments, stands as the perfect embodiment of grotesque bourgeois taste. Whether or not Sartre viewed the Second Empire as a figure for Vichy, with those two sentences he communicated a disdain for all that was bourgeois and philistine. Thus, when the Philadelphia Museum of Art produced its exhibition on Second Empire art in the 1970s, Jean-Marie Moulin wrote in the catalogue that had the exhibition "been proposed in France by Frenchmen it would have had great difficulty seeing the light of day." Clearly, the regime of Louis Napoleon represented more punchline - "the second as farce" - than serious art.