Master of Arts (MA)



Document Type



The Paris Opera House, or Palais Garnier, is known as the backdrop for the Broadway musical Phantom of the Opera, which has been seen by more than 100 million people worldwide since its debut a quarter-century ago. Outside of France, more people know about the fictional phantom Erik and his white mask than they do Charles Garnier, the building’s real life architect. Based on substantial archival research at Bibliothèque Nationale de France, the Bibliothèque-Musée de l’Opéra and the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, this study presents a rare biographical portrait of Garnier, whose rags-to-riches tale was emblematic of a nineteenth-century Paris where opportunities abounded for men of talent and drive. Born the son of a blacksmith, Garnier was too sickly to follow in his father’s professional footsteps. He took advantage of new educational opportunities that taught him first how to read and write, then to draw, then to be an architect. The award of a Prix de Rome in 1848 granted him five years to study, sketch and travel throughout Italy, Greece and Turkey. Away from Paris, he stoked his ambitions, refined his sensibilities and gained an appreciation for classical buildings and art. Sifting through rubble with his bare hands at the Temple of Aegina, the power of ancients seized his imagination. On his return to Paris, his newly developed expertise enabled him to win the commission to build the new Opera house which Napoleon III wanted to be the crown jewel of his refurbished and modernized Paris. Garnier needed thirteen years to complete the work, but when it was done, it stood magnificent. Born in obscurity and poverty, Garnier was now wealthy and the most famous architect in Europe.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Martin, Benjamin



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History Commons