Elizabeth Ockwell, a teacher of watercolor and anatomy at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, spends every May and June drawing in the streets of Paris. Last summer, she chose to devote all of her time to the “Palais Garnier,” the original Paris Opera House. Perhaps only an artist of figure drawing can translate the stupendous detail of this legendary building into graphic form. Its interior is populated with bronze figures that form chandeliers, towering candelabra and sconces. Its magnificent staircases resemble the sweeping trains of marble ball gowns. Indeed, the Palais Garnier seems alive even without a single human inside and, certainly, only an artist like Elizabeth Ockwell can separate this essence from its near monstrous presence.
Ockwell says that even after so many years, she is still astonished by the excess of ornament and the bizarre shapes and veined pulsating colors in the marble columns and polychromatic statues that she has called “brutally luxurious.” She has said, “Just as the visitor to the Paris Opera House becomes an actor and participant in the drama of the building, which often rivals the drama enacted on the stage, I aspire to make each drawing a stage for the viewer to reflect the heightened sensations of being and seeing in this astonishing place.” The Paris Opera House has inspired countless artists, architects and composers with its jaw-dropping interiors that have made this grand theater the icon of Nineteenth Century Paris.