The Palais des Arts turns to science: The Palais de la Découverte

Rmn-Grand Palais

The Palais de la Découverte has been located in the west part of the Grand Palais since 1937

It was time for the Palais des Arts to turn to science. The result of a three-way project shared between Jean Perrin, the Front Populaire and the International Exhibition of 1937, the Palais de la Découverte was the embodiment of republican ideals.

The Palais d'Antin, the west wing of the Grand Palais, would become home to this project. Originally designed as a temporary exhibition prior to the construction of a large science museum in Paris, the Palais de la Découverte welcomed 222,500 visitors between May and November 1937.

Bolstered by this success, the Palais de la Découverte became a permanent fixture in 1938, in both location and purpose.
Extract from: Les Merveilles d’un Palais, EPPDCSI, 2014

For Jean Perrin, Under-secretary of State for Education in charge of Scientific Research (1936-1937) and winner of the Nobel Prize for physics in 1926, this new era of progress was aimed at everyone, by demonstrating science as a real pursuit in its experiments and its implementation.

Designed in a rational, modern and geometric fashion, panelling in plywood, stucco and vellum covered the façade, the classical ornaments, the monumental staircases and the interior of the Palais d'Antin from 1937 until 1985.

The architectural features and design of this western section of the Grand Palais are now on display once more.

The general layout of the Palais de la Découverte was awarded to the Germain Debré firm of architects, experts in laboratory architecture, Armand Néret and Maurice Boutterin, assisted by Nicolas Kristy, working in collaboration with André Léveillé, Palais de la Découverte director from 1937 to 1960.

The Palais de la Découverte began to renovate its permanent exhibition spaces from 1949, in line with post-war events.

Designed to display and explain scientific discoveries, a series of panels presented the consequences of the German occupation on the health of the French population.

This renovation concerned the rooms dedicated to medicine and biology. The intention at the time was present statistics and medical reports and also provide public medical advice on preventing certain illnesses.

A major attraction was installed along the banks of the Seine in 1937 – the planetarium.

The instrument was installed by the Zeiss company, modelled on the planetarium at the Munich Science Museum. It was a considerable success and presentations of the skies took place every hour from 10 am to 7 pm.

Once the International Exhibition had ended, the planetarium was disassembled and stored underneath the Conservatoire national des arts et métiers for almost fifteen years.

In 1951, it was decided that it should be installed in the Hall d'Antin at the Palais de la Découverte. Five months' work was required before it could open on 27 June 1952, in the presence of French President Vincent Auriol.

As a result, the 1937 planetarium remained in service until 1979. At the end of the 1970s, a new planetarium was installed on the first floor of the Palais, in the former Universe room.

This decision was a direct result of the Hall d'Antin's classification as a Historic Monument. Leaving behind the 23 metre dome that could hold 370 people, the new projection room measured 15 metres in diameter and held 208 seats.

In 1997, a third planetarium was installed: the Starmaster.

Extract from: Sébastien Fontaine, Les coulisses du planétarium, Découverte, n° 362, p. 55

To celebrate the first moon landing, the Palais de la Découverte launched a series of events based around the Apollo XI mission on 20 July 1969...

... in cooperation with the Embassy of the United States, the ORTF, IBM, Kodak, Marcel Hamelle, Philips and Zeiss.

On Sunday 20 and Monday 21 July, free entry was granted and the doors were open until midnight.

The presentation included projections on large screens and colour televisions, and ORTF operations and current events. The cinema continuously showed films of the previous Apollo missions.

The scientific mediation programme also changed to offer a special planetarium show, "The journey from Earth to the Moon: how astronauts perceive the Earth's starry crescent from the surface of the Moon".

Lastly, the Moon room hosted scientists and experts who came to answer the many questions from RADIO-TERRE listeners and other visitors to the Palais de la Découverte.

For the 10th anniversary of man's first steps on the moon, the Dossiers de l'écran television programme chose the Palais de la Découverte for a special live broadcast with Alain Jérôme and Commander Neil Armstrong on 11 July 1979.

In 1942, the Palais de la Découverte was chosen to produce a travelling exhibition aimed at German prisoners of war.

It consisted of seven illustrated panels presenting the history and activity of the Paris science museum. The first panel focused on the fundamentals of the Palais de la Découverte – its role, its layout, its audience and its activities.

A series of panels then presented the scientific disciplines and their areas of expertise. They were presented alongside photographs illustrating the rooms and experiences.

A final panel described complementary activities such as lectures, publications, the reading room and the library.

By insisting on national identity, the "Palais de la Découverte, a French journey" exhibition was in fact a propaganda piece for the Vichy government, with the emphasis on national cohesion, one of their key themes.

The monument was used for several exhibitions of Nazi propaganda. During the liberation of Paris, incendiary devices fired in the nave set fire to the building. Soldiers taking refuge inside were held as prisoners by the Germans.

From 1937, the Palais de la Découverte hosted temporary exhibitions that complemented the broad range of experiences and presentations in the permanent collection.

Their initial aim was principally to promote scientific discoveries and their applications.

The first of these The Stages of Progress was presented from May to August 1937 and was aimed at demonstrating the range of scientific research...

... and "a reminder of the road taken on the slow evolution of civilisation"

Extract from E. Labbé, Rapport général de l’exposition internationale des arts et techniques dans la vie moderne, Ministère du Commerce et de l’Industrie, 1937.

Every year, the Palais de la Découverte would organise three or four temporary exhibitions around current scientific events. They would also come to enrich and diversify the permanent collection, which would adapt and offer a new programme according to the various themes.

As a major player in the popularisation of science, the Palais de la Découverte also acted as a privileged venue for scientific events.

It hosted and organised lectures, conferences, competitions and official events. These activities also helped in its role as a scientific mediator by encouraging an interest in science in the youngest of visitors.

Credits: Story

We would like to thank all the people who have contributed to the construction of this journey through the Grand Palais and those who have given us valuable time and information as well as permission to reproduce their documentation.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions (listed below) who have supplied the content.
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