Murals of Lyon, France

Since 1987, the artists at CitéCréation have been transforming abandoned public walls in Lyon into colorful murals. These murals pay tribute to an element of Lyon’s rich history and social legacy.

This story was created for the Google Expeditions project by ePublishing Partners, now available on Google Arts & Culture

Together they form one giant open-air gallery that is a defining feature of Lyon’s urban landscape, admired by both tourists and residents alike.

The Famous Faces of the Lyon Fresco

At first glance you see what appears to be a very busy building, with people walking by or standing on balconies… but take a closer look and you’ll see that this is actually one giant fresco!

Painted with the trompe-l’oeil – or “trick of the eye” – technique, this giant fresco celebrates over thirty local figures who have made their mark over 2000 years of Lyonnais history, from the Roman emperor Claudius to the renowned chef Paul Bocuse.

Laurent Mourguet

Laurent Mourguet was an 18th century tooth puller who created a puppet show to distract his patients. The puppet named Guignol was a hero of the local silk workers and has since become an iconic figures of Lyonnais folklore. 

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was born in Lyon in 1900. A journalist, and pilot during the Second World War, Saint-Exupéry is well known for having written the novella The Little Prince, a worldwide bestseller translated into more than 250 languages.

The Lumière Brothers

The brothers Auguste and Louis Lumière were great 19th century inventors that developed the cinematograph in Lyon in 1895. Here they are projecting one of their films, showing a practical joke being played on a gardener.

Paul Bocuse

Paul Bocuse is renowned French chef, and a worldwide ambassador of the art of French cuisine. His major restaurant, located a few kilometers north of Lyon, has had three Michelin stars for over 50 years. 

The Murals

A row of city signs, shops, boutiques and restaurants are painted on the ground floor of the mural. This adds to the realism of the painting, the trompe-l’oeil effect. The artists also painted adverts for real businesses in Lyon who helped to fund the painting of the fresco.

Together they form one giant open-air gallery that is a clever marketing strategy!

Bertrand Tavernier

Bertrand Tavernier is a film director, writer and film historian. He was a champion for the conservation project of the Villa Lumière, which was the home of the Lumière brothers, among the first filmmakers in history.

Joseph-Marie Jacquard

Joseph-Marie Jacquard helped to modernize the local silk industry with his invention that took his name, the Jacquard loom. Its particularity is its use of punched cards, and it is still used by a number of local silk weavers today.

Optical Illusion

Here is another mural painted with the trompe-l’oeil technique to combine both real and painted windows. Go ahead and try to tell which windows are real and which are painted.

Open-Air Art Gallery

Here is another mural, depicting an artist workshop on the ground floor. Look at the windows above – what do you see? They’re the paintings of the artist on the ground floor, a playful mix of the real and the unreal.

The Wall of the Canuts

At 1,200 square metres, the Wall of the Canuts is the largest fresco in Europe. It depicts daily life in the Croix-Rousse neighborhood of Lyon, historically known for housing the local industry of silk workers, or “canuts.” 

As you get closer to the wall you can see the high windows that are typical of canut homes.

A Representation of the Area

This giant and lifelike representation of the neighborhood is a harmonious echo of its real-life counterpart. We can see some of the neighborhood’s inhabitants in action as well as their emblems.

The Stairs

The trompe-l’oeil, or “trick of the eye,” technique gives you the impression that the staircase is rising up into the building façade. This reflects the fact that the Croix-Rousse neighborhood was built on the slopes of a hill.

The People

These residents were painted upon creation of the fresco, and have been aged with each subsequent update of the fresco. For example, the young man pushing his bicycle in 1987’s version is painted as a father in 1997 with his 4-year-old daughter.

Symbols of the Area

This red bicycle represents Vélo’v, Lyon’s bike sharing system. Indeed, Lyon was a pioneer in France when the system was created in 2005, and since then other cities in Europe have adopted their own system based on the same model.

The History of the Wall of the Canuts

Tucked into a small passageway on the lower right-hand corner of the Wall are boards that describe the history of the fresco. What’s special about the wall is that it receives a “facelift” every ten to fifteen to mirror the evolution of the neighborhood in real life and thus maintain the illusion of the trompe-l’oeil or “trick of the eye” effect.

Before the Fresco

The fresco was commissioned in 1986 as a to better accommodate the five advertising boards of the façade. The cooperative CitéCreation and its mural painters was called upon to create what would become a defining landmark of the neighborhood.

The 1987 Version

To perform the task of covering the entire wall, the mural painters at CitéCreation decided to feature typical architectural elements of the neighborhood – buildings, courtyards, and tall flights of stairs. 

The 1997 Update

In 1997, the mural painter updated the fresco to reflect changes in the neighborhood in the previous ten years. Businesses sprung up on the ground floor, façade colors were made more vibrant and the neighborhood residents were aged.

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