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— Photographs by Scott Beadles

Paris, ca. 1810

The Promenade de Longchamp was an annual social event which took place on the Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of Holy Week every spring along the Champs-Élysées and through the Bois-de-Boulogne. The tour ended at the abbey of Longchamp, where the nuns sang the office of Tenebrae, a village four miles from Paris. A convent there, established in 1256, had long been a destination for religious pilgrims. In the late seventeenth century, the pilgrimage became unauthorized secular spectacle.


The nun’s choir was fortified with singers from the Paris Opera. The theater in Paris was closed during Lent, which made the Promenade one of the few ways in which high society could flaunt their new spring fashions. A procession of people in festive costume traveled on horseback, in carriages, and on foot. Wealthy citizens of Paris vied to have the most elaborate carriages and clothing, while the lower classes, including laborers, soldiers, and prostitutes, lined the route to gawk. Police turned out in force, to keep the parade participants safe. The Paris Archbishop de Beaumont tried to halt the parade by ordering the convent closed during Holy Week. The parade did not stop. Participants were there to see and be seen.


In 1789, the Promenade was disrupted by an angry mob. The convent, by then wholly peripheral to the show, was closed by the Revolutionary government. Napoleon revived the parade in the 19th century, in part as a way to bolster the fashion industry, but the later parades did not match the lush grandeur of those in the 18th century. Still, the parade contributed to later fashion phenomena. The American “Easter Parade” and the big, ostentatious hats of the Kentucky Derby can be traced back to the Promenade de Longchamp.


This early 19th century concertina-style peepshow depicting the Promenade de Longchamp in Paris is etched on the front and back panes and contains four cut-out sections in-between, all hand-colored. The front panel has a circular viewing aperture. It is housed in its original marbled paper slip-case with engraved label.