Written By: Ben Cosgrove, Liz Ronk

In early 1946, photographer Ed Clark journeyed to Paris (“the grand courtesan of all cities,” LIFE called the ancient town) to record the look and the feel of the French capital less than a year after the end of World War II. The pictures he made there chronicle not the cheerful, bawdy Paris of the popular imagination, but a place that, as LIFE told its readers, was a “grim and depressing disappointment” for any visitors expecting the Paris of Maxim’s, the Ritz, the Folies Bergère, the Moulin Rouge and the city’s other legendary, libidinous diversions.

The Parisians themselves, meanwhile, were “cold, hungry, confused and tired above all, tired too busy keeping themselves alive to bother much about entertaining. . . . [The typical American GI in Paris at the time] felt cheated. Where was the Paris he had heard about?”

The Paris [of Clark’s photos] is the Paris of the Parisians and of anyone else who will take her. She is unadorned, somber and beautiful. Most of the pictures were taken in mist or rain, when the sharp, clean lines of the city’s spires and the bridges pierce through a curtain of gray. This is the Paris that neither Germans nor GIs could change. Even in the age of the atom bomb, she is as indestructible as the river.

For his part, like countless travelers before him through the centuries, Ed Clark fell under the spell cast by the great, gorgeous city. In fact, the Tennessee native once claimed that, at the time he got the assignment, “I didn’t know where France was, let alone Paris.”

But when he came upon a young painter in Montmartre (slide #6 in this gallery, and Clark’s personal favorite photo from his entire career), he found it “so beautiful that I just started shooting.”

View along Quai du Louvre (today Quai François Mitterrand) down the Seine toward Ponte Des Arts with the Eiffel Tower in the distance, 1946.

View along Quai du Louvre (today Quai François Mitterrand) down the Seine toward Ponte Des Arts with the Eiffel Tower in the distance, 1946.

Ed Clark Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

Arc de Triomphe, 1946

Arc de Triomphe

Ed Clark Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

A barge churns up the Seine past Notre Dame on a gloomy winter day in 1946.

Churning up the Seine, past Notre Dame, on a gray winter day.

Ed Clark Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

A man exits a Paris Metro station, 1946.

Exiting the Metro

Ed Clark Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

The Arc de Triomphe, 1946

The Arc de Triomphe

Ed Clark Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

A young artist paints Sacre-Coeur from the ancient Rue Norvins in Montmartre, Paris, 1946.

Painting Sacre-Coeur from the ancient Rue Norvins in Montmartre, Paris.

Ed Clark Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

Moulin de la Galette, Paris, 1946.

Moulin de la Galette, Paris

Ed Clark Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

Paris' famed stalls along the Seine, 1946.

The famous stalls along the Seine

Ed Clark Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

View across the Pont Alexandre III bridge toward the Grand Palace , Paris, 1946.

View across the Pont Alexandre III bridge toward the Grand Palace

Ed Clark Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

A small sister of the Statue of Liberty beside the Seine, 1946.

A small sister of the Statue of Liberty beside the Seine, 1946.

Ed Clark Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

Paris street scene, 1946.

Street scene

Ed Clark Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

Near the Pont Neuf steps, Paris, 1946.

Near the Pont Neuf steps

Ed Clark Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

Scene on the Seine, 1946.

Scene on the Seine

Ed Clark Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

Parisian flower vendor on the banks of the Seine, 1946.

Selling flowers on the banks of the Seine

Ed Clark Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

Pont Alexandre III bridge, Paris, 1946.

Pont Alexandre III bridge

Ed Clark Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

Conciergerie, Paris, 1946.

The Conciergerie, on the Ile de la Cité

Ed Clark Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

Rowboats on the banks of the Seine, Paris, 1946.

Rowboats on the banks of the Seine

Ed Clark Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

View of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris, commonly known as Sacré-Coeur, 1946.

View of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris, commonly known as Sacré-Coeur

Ed Clark Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

Montmartre cemetery, Paris, winter 1946.

Montmartre cemetery, winter 1946.

Ed Clark Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

Passerelle Debilly bridge on a foggy winter day with the Eiffel Tower in the background, 1946.

Passerelle Debilly bridge on a foggy winter day with the Eiffel Tower in the background

Ed Clark Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

More Like This

Haglia Sophia destinations

Uncovering Ancient Christian Mosaics

Rocky Mountain Road Trip destinations

The Highs of a Rocky Mountain Road Trip, 1959

Florence, Italy destinations

Florence, A Marvel Of Enduring Power

A Tahitian woman walking her horse through the jungle. destinations

Stunning Photographs of Islands That Inspired Great Works of Art

Grand Canyon National Park in color, 1947. destinations

The Grand Canyon: Stunning Color Photographs From 1947

Skiers at Mount Snow in Vermont, 1957. destinations

Skiing’s Early Days as a Popular American Pastime