The 1900 Universal Exhibition

The Universal Exhibition was a spectacular celebration of the dawn of the new century. Paris became a showcase for the world.

Alfred Picard (1844-1913), head curator of the 1900 Universal Exhibition. (1900) by Michel Berthoud (1845-1912) and © RMN-Grand Palais (musée d'Orsay) / Hervé LewandowskiRmn-Grand Palais

The most important man in France

From 1892 to 1900, the General Commissioner of the 1900 Universal Exhibition, Alfred Picard, was fully invested in his role. The press named him the most important man in France.

Le Petit journal: 1900 Universal Exhibition, general view (1900) by H. Meyer and © Petit Palais / Roger-ViolletOriginal Source: Roger Viollet photo agency website

The big day

The Universal Exhibition was opened by French President Emil Loubet on 14 April 1900. The new century was marked with a hundred cannon salute. The Grand Palais opened to the public on 16 May 1900.

Advertising poster for the universal admission ticket for attractions at the 1900 Universal Exhibition in Paris. (1900) by Philippe Chapelier and © Bibliothèque Forney / Roger ViolletOriginal Source: Roger Viollet photo agency website

The Exhibition attracted 51 million visitors, 21 million more than in 1889. By comparison, the population of France at that time was 41.5 million.

Postcard showing the Grand Palais from avenue Winston Churchill (1900)Rmn-Grand Palais

The Grand Palais: a source of national pride

The Grand Palais opened to the public amid a chorus of praise! The avenue is seen as a flagship for the capital, the building's façades majestic, and the nave is judged to be a masterpiece of mirror making. The "Le Petit Parisien" newspaper gushed that "nothing so magnificent has been built since the Opéra! 

1900 Universal Exhibition. Avenue Nicolas II. (1900) by © Léon et Lévy / Roger-ViolletOriginal Source: Roger Viollet photo agency website

A palace to the glory of French art

"This monument is dedicated by the French Republic to the glory of French art," reads the official declaration. The Exhibition paid tribute: on the Palais d'Antin side, the Centennale celebrated the greatest French works of art from 1800 to 1890, and on the nave side, the Décennale focused on French art from 1890 to 1900. The foreign sections were located in the rooms looking out onto the Seine.

1900 Universal Exhibition. French painting section in the Salon d'Honneur of the Grand Palais. (1900) by © Léon et Lévy / Roger-ViolletOriginal Source: Roger Viollet photo agency wrbsite

An encyclopaedic presentation

The works were intended to be presented chronologically, from neoclassicism to impressionism. In the halls, sculptures were displayed next to paintings from the same period. Such encyclopaedic presentations were in favour at the time. The period was obviously favourable to such an excessive collection: the incredible diversity of French talent needed to be displayed.

Grand Palais interior, Bossuet. (1900) by Anonymous and © Musée d'Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice SchmidtOriginal Source: Rmn-Grand Palais photo agency website

An over-abundance of works

The number of works of art was dizzying: 3,066 for the Centennale, 3,336 for the Décennale and 4,967 for all the foreign sections. The press encouraged visitors to return several times so as not to be overwhelmed. The Palais des Beaux-Arts exhibition also provoked admiration. "A more magnificent assembly of beautiful things is unimaginable! "

"Le Pont d'Argenteuil" (1874) by © RMN-Grand Palais (musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski and Claude Monet (1840-1926)Rmn-Grand Palais

The impressionists

The Centennale cemented the image of French art on the international stage. The contemporary artists on display were proudly vindicated where many had long been ignored. Such was the case for the Impressionists, who finally achieved recognition from the exhibition. Claude Monet, Armand Guillemin, Albert Lebourg, Camille Pissarro and Auguste Renoir were displayed alongside departed members of the group such as Alfred Sisley, Frédéric Bazille, Eugène Boudin and Berthe Morisot.

The colossal quadriga of Victory, bronze above the Grand Palais. by © RMN-Grand Palais, 2015Rmn-Grand Palais

Georges Récipon's two quadrigas

One year after the Universal Exhibition, the Grand Palais' design was crowned with two monumental statue groups: the quadrigas of Georges Récipon. On the Champs-Elysées side, “Immortality outstripping Time".

Colossal quadriga of Harmony triumphing over Discord, bronze above the Grand Palais. by © RMN-Grand Palais, 2015Rmn-Grand Palais

On the Seine side, “Harmony triumphing over Discord”.

The Seine viewed from the Paris rooftops with one of the quadriga. by © Oswald Perrelle / Roger-ViolletOriginal Source: Roger Viollet photo agency website

Defying gravity

The horses leap energetically into the skies above Paris. With a lightness of touch that defies their twelve tonne weight, these masterpieces seem to launch themselves into the Parisian sky, 30 metres above the ground.

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.

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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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