Notre Dame, Vers l'Orient

Steel engraving from a watercolour drawing by Pugin. Notre Dame, Vers l'Orient. Source: Pugin, facing p. 66.

Auguste Charles Pugin (1767/8-1832) was born in Paris, and came to England only in his mid-twenties. As a drawing master, draughtsman and publisher (among others) he regularly took his pupils, along with his only child Augustus, across the channel: "Pugin had, with his pupils, made numerous trips to France during the 1820's to make drawings for his various publications," writes Andrea Quinlan, finding that such visits were recorded "in 1819, 1821 and every year from 1823 to 1828," so that indeed travelling out there was "a matter of course" for them (125).

The younger Pugin enjoyed the visits in his own way: "He does not dislike a little play, but he works infinitely more than he plays, while the rest play infinitely more than they work," wrote his proud mother to her sister (qtd. in Ferrey 35). The splendour of the Gothic buildings there had a huge effect on him. In another letter to her sister, his mother described an incident that happened at Notre Dame. This was in the summer of 1827, when Pugin was 15:

My poor Augustus has latterly been very unwell, and on Thursday last alarmed us much; he went before breakfast to draw in Notre Dame, when suddenly (as he describes his sensation) the whole building on every side seemed breaking and tumbling to pieces, and the pavement so agitated he could not stand; fortunately Mr. Nash was drawing with him, and got him into a coach and brought him home pale as death. [qtd. in Ferrey 39]

Taking up Benjamin Ferrey's suggestion that the boy had been driving himself too hard, the younger Pugin's biographer Rosemary Hill finds the incident "indicative," explaining: "The intensity of his enthusiasms always led him to push his strength to the limit and his passions were not balanced by any steadying round of school or or office work, by self or any other control" (76). Nevertheless, he overcame any memories of the episode to produce one of the three drawings of Notre Dame for his father's book, Paris and its Environs: Displayed in a Series of Two Hundred Picturesque Views, from Original Drawings, published in monthly parts between September 1828 and July 1831 (see Quinlan 130, n.34). The west front of the cathedral was drawn by his father, and the interior by one of the pupils, the up-and-coming architectural artist and lithographer Joseph Nash (1809-78), who obviously kept a kindly eye on the somewhat younger Pugin. But this splendid drawing, at a tricky angle that shows off the flying buttresses perfectly, carries the remarkably accomplished Pugin Junior's name, as do fourteen other illustrations in the book (see Quinlan 126).

This drawing comes towards the end of the one-volume edition published in 1831. There is no record of a visit to Paris between 1828 and the time the book was published, though scenes from the July Monarchy in these later pages, especially that of fighting at the Caserne Suisse, Rue de Babylone, on 29 July 1830 (facing p. 189), seem to suggest that there might have been a visit in that year. But there was inevitably a time-lag between the original watercolour drawings and the production of the steel engravings and final issuing of the parts, and Pugin could have been no more than eighteen at the very outside when this particular drawing was completed. It is remarkable in its fine detailing, and reflects the rigorous training and high standards of his father.

La Sainte-Chapelle

La Sainte-Chapelle. Source: Pugin, facing p. 6.

Despite having been born in England to an English mother, the younger Pugin spoke French fluently (Ferrey 39), and his father's background and their early visits seem to have made it natural for him to travel to the Continent regularly in adult life. In 1831 he spent three months travelling in Europe, crossing France, going into Germany and returning via the Netherlands in 1831 (Hill 126). He mentions going to Paris "for a few days" in July 1835 (Letters I: 48), just after having been received into the Catholic church, and he spent a week in Paris at the beginning of July 1836 (Letters I: 77, n.7). In 1837 he spent a month in France and Belgium (Hill 186), and in 1838, he spent nearly seven weeks in Germany and Switzerland – on this occasion making some unsuccessful enquiries about his father's French-Swiss ancestry, and returning via Paris and Rouen (Hill 199-200). The main destination of his Continental trip in 1844 was Germany (Hill 305), but his passage through France on this visit was particularly significant. Margaret Belcher writes, "Pugin's diary shows that he was 'At Paris' from 17 May to 23 May 1844 and that he found 'vespers at Notre Dame Magnificent' on 19 May (231). More importantly, he also saw how the restoration work was transforming La Sainte-Chapelle, which he had drawn for his father for the book about Paris. Soon after his return, on 30 May, he wrote to his patron the Earl of Shrewsbury that the new work was "worthy of the days of St Louis," and enthused about the progress of the interior: "I never saw Images so exquisitely painted" (Letters II: 200). A few years later he was back on the Continent again. He was in Paris around Easter 1847 (Letters III: 236, n.1), visiting Italy and France in the autumn of 1847, and returning via Switzerland and northern France (Hill 369-373). He visited France for the last time, it seems, in 1850 (Hill 442), though his health was deteriorating and he was hopelessly overworked by now.

Pugin seems to have been less impressed by the architectural principles on which Viollet-le-Duc, the great French Gothic Revivalist was proceeding in Paris and elsewhere (he visited Carcassonne in 1847, where Viollet-le-Duc was restoring the famous medieval citadel by the River Aude) than by such decorative enrichments as the older architect's scrolled and painted columns and copious gilding. St Giles at Cheadle was to be very much a local parish church in traditional English Gothic. But there is no doubt that its decorative splendour – as well as that of St Chad's, Birmingham, just to choose the most obvious examples – owes much to what Pugin had seen in Paris. Pugin's "French connection" was of great importance to his vision, most specifically to his vision as an architect-designer.

Related Material


Belcher, Margaret. A. W. N. Pugin: Ann Annotated Critical Bibliography. London: Mansell, 1987.

Ferrey, Benjamin. Recollections of A. N. Welby Pugin, and his father, Augustus Pugin; with notices of their works. London: Edward Stanford, 1861. Internet Archive. Web. 10 December 2014.

Hill, Rosemary. God's Architect: Pugin and the Building of Romantic Britain. Pbk ed. London: Penguin, 2008 [review].

Pugin, A. W. N. The Collected Letters of A. W. N. Pugin. I: 1830-1842. Ed. Margaret Belcher. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

_____. The Collected Letters of A. W. N. Pugin. II: 1843-1845. Ed. Margaret Belcher. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

_____. The Collected Letters of A. W. N. Pugin. III: 1846-1848. Ed. Margaret Belcher. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Pugin, Auguste. Paris and its Environs: Displayed in a Series of Two Hundred Picturesque Views, from Original Drawings. London: Jennings and Chaplin, 1831. Contributed by the Robarts Library, University of Toronto. Internet Archive. Web. 10 December 2014.

Quinlan, Andrea. "Paris and its Environs: Augustus Charles Pugin's view of the city." The British Art Journal. I: 10, No. 3 (Winter/Spring 2009/10): 125-30. Accessed via JSTOR. Web. 10 December 2014.

Last modified 10 December 2014