The Grand Palais, the birth of a monument

Built for the Universal Exhibition of 1900, the Grand Palais has reflected the historical, economic and cultural evolutions in France ever since.

Rmn-Grand Palais

The Grand Palais, Paris, France (2013) by © Francoise Peissel, 2015Rmn-Grand Palais

The Grand Palais

Located along the Champs-Élysées, the Grand Palais was designed to demonstrate France's artistic and technical prowess. Since 1901, it has also played host to many prestigious events: motor shows, air shows, interior design exhibitions, equestrian events, major art exhibitions and more. Since opening, each of these events has attracted thousands of visitors, making the Grand Palais one of the key cultural locations in Paris

Portrait of Sadi Carnot (1837-1894), politician, President of France (December 1887-June 1894). (Avant 1894) by © RMN-Grand Palais (musée d'Orsay) / Hervé LewandowskiOriginal Source: Rmn-Grand Palais photo agency website

The turn of the century

The plan to host the 1900 Universal Exhibition in Paris was set out by French President Sadi Carnot in 1892.

Drawing of Eiffel Tower (1889) by Deroy Auguste Victor (1825-1906)Original Source: Site de l'agence photo

A new vision for the area

This was an opportunity to learn the lessons of the previous Paris Universal Exhibition in 1889, which was marked by difficulties crossing between the banks of the Seine and a lack of any prestigious exhibition space.

Vue générale de l'Exposition universelle de 1900 (1900) by © RMN-Grand Palais (musée d'Orsay) / Hervé LewandowskiOriginal Source: Site de l'agence photo

Creation of a new district

The Exhibition would cover both banks of the Seine, from the Champs-de-Mars and the Trocadéro to Châtelet and the Parc de Vincennes. A decision was made to create a new district opposite the Invalides. A competition for suggestions was launched in 1894. This resulted in a project for two palaces, one on each side of an avenue that would lead to the Invalides over a bridge. It was also decided that these buildings would remain in place after the Exhibition.

Palace of Industry, view of the fine arts exhibition of 1857. (1857) by © Agence d'architecture du Grand Palais/EMOCRmn-Grand Palais

An architectural contest

Once this plan was selected, a grand architectural contest was announced in the Official Journal of 22 April 1896. It declared that the former Palace of Industry from the Universal Exhibition of 1855 would be knocked down. It was too vast and inconveniently located, obscured the view of the Invalides and prevented the new avenue from being built. From around one hundred proposals submitted, there were twenty that met these requirements.

Three project proposals for the Grand Palais des Arts at the Universal Exhibition of 1900 (1895/1896) by Louis Pille (1868-1899) - Ernest Sébille (1838-1913) - Gustave Rive (1858-1926)Original Source: Rmn-photo Grand Palais photo agency website

These projects reflected the fashions of the era: symmetrical façades, a profusion of decorative sculptures, columns, a central dome, etc.
None of the three proposals was selected.

Grand Palais project close to its final version. (1897) by © Rmn-GP, 2015 fonds Grand PalaisRmn-Grand Palais

A shared project

After the final vote, no single project was chosen, although prizes were awarded: Albert Louvet received first prize, with Henri Deglane and René Binet coming second and Albert Thomas third. The competition jury decided that Grand Palais would be a combination of several proposals. The main façade and the nave are the work of Henri Deglane (1855-1931).

Longitudinal cross-section of the rear and middle sections of the Grand Palais, Paris. (1897) by © Agence d'architecture du Grand Palais / EMOCRmn-Grand Palais

Albert Louvet (1860-1936) was allocated the middle section (between the nave and the Palais d'Antin), the staircase and the Salon d’Honneur.

Study for the rear section façade (Palais d'Antin-now Palais de la Découverte) of the Grand Palais des Champs-Elysées. by Albert Thomas (1847-1907)Rmn-Grand Palais

The rear section or Palais d'Antin (now home to the Palais de la Découverte) is the work of Albert Thomas (1847-1907).

Palais des Beaux Arts on the Champs Elysées. Petit Palais front elevation. (4 juillet 1896) by © Agence d'architecture du Grand Palais / EMOCRmn-Grand Palais

Petit Palais architect Charles Girault (1851-1933) was also charged with coordinating the whole project.

Universal Exhibition of 1900, project plan for the Grand Palais. (vers 1896) by Photographie : © RMN-Grand Palais (musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski © DRRmn-Grand Palais

The building

The Grand Palais is constructed in the form of an 'H', with an inclined axis on the Palais d'Antin side. The entire building has a basement that houses stables, storage areas and workshops. The interior consists of the nave, the middle section with the Salon d'Honneur upstairs and the Palais d'Antin. The side galleries of the nave and a large number of staircases facilitate movement around the building.

Vue générale de l'Exposition universelle de 1900 (1900) by © RMN-Grand Palais (musée d'Orsay) / Hervé LewandowskiOriginal Source: Site de l'agence photo

The Universal Exhibition and the creation of the Grand Palais district helped to promote the 3rd Republic as powerful and enterprising.

Universal Exhibition of 1900, Paris: the Grand Palais and the Alexandre III bridge. (1900) by Lemoine Henri (1848-1924), photographeOriginal Source: Rmn-Grand Palais photo agency website

The new district was dedicated to the Franco-Russian alliance. The bridge was named after Tsar Alexander III. The first stone was laid in 1896 with Tsar Nicolas II in attendance.

Vue générale de l'Exposition universelle de 1900 (1900) by © RMN-Grand Palais (musée d'Orsay) / Hervé LewandowskiOriginal Source: Site de l'agence photo

After the Universal Exhibition, the Grand Palais would remain the property of the State.

The Petit Palais was offered to the capital and would become the municipal museum of Paris in 1903.

1900 Universal Exhibition. Avenue Nicolas II. (1900) by R.P.I (Paris)Rmn-Grand Palais

Parisians and visitors to the Exhibition would soon come to admire this incredible sight, stretching over one kilometre to the Invalides.

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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