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Grand Palais History
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cradled by its colossal white stone columns and proudly displaying its
glass ceiling under the sun and under the rain, the Grand Palais is one
of the most familiar Parisian landmarks.
started to think it was immortal. The fall of a rivet from the glass
ceiling in 1993, however, showed that this was not the case. This
masterpiece erected during World’s Fair of 1900 (l’Exposition
Universelle de 1900) was falling apart. The great exhibition hall (grand
nef) had to be closed to the public while emergency stairs were
hastily built for the exhibition areas.
Newton’s apple produced the laws of gravity; the fateful rivet started a
small revolution. Restoration was inevitable.
Aside from the
decision process of the authorities (1993 to 2002) and given the huge
sums involved, these decision makers should be excused for their slow
response. There were some who wanted to demolish the Grand Palais.
Today, as the
restoration work continues, the general public can once again lift their
eyes safely towards to the quadrigas – the harnessed furious horses
clinging to façade.
de Récipon (photo Fr3)
Récipon, the sculptor, designed the two quadrigas. On the south side
towards the River Seine is the sculpture representing harmony triumphing
over disorder (L’Harmonie triumphant de la discorde); and on the
north side immortality outliving time (L’Immortalité devançant le
temps). What better symbol could you dream of to initiate the
restoration of the monument under favorable conditions?
How did we get
to the edge of this abyss? How did we get to the near destruction of the
most beautiful exhibition palace in the world?
started to resemble one of those beached whales – pathetic, better to be
sliced up than attempt to put it afloat. Its restoration had become a
colossal financial burden for the government.
Palais, property of the Republic, was destined for sports, agricultural
and cultural events; the Petit Palais was transformed into the museum of
Beaux Arts de la Ville de Paris after the closure of l’Exposition
Universelle of 1900. Even though its architecture had been criticized
during its construction, the Grand Palais would be like the Petit Palais
across the street – destined to endure in comparison to the temporary
constructions on the esplanade of the Invalides and along the shore of
the Seine. And well built they were.
the metal frame ©BNF
The idea was
to erect a real palace of the fine arts. A few years after the
demolition of the Tuilleries Palace, the royal residence and then an
Imperial residence (between Louis XVI to Napoléon III), the Republic
wanted to show to the world that it was capable of building magnificent
Until then the
World Fairs had never rendered any first rate monuments for posterity
except for the Eiffel Tower, finished in 1889, and much criticized at
the time. As to others, the French novelist, Huysmans, compared the
Palace of the Trocadero, built in 1878, to the legs of a bloated woman
because of its enormous paunch topped by two thin pinnacles.
The Palais de
l’Industrie, built on the 1855 on the Champs-Elysées, had become
unfashionable; its main draw back being to hide the Invalides. It was,
In 1900 the
objective was to do something much better. The future Grand Palais was
part of an ambitious urban project. Construction included a new large
avenue – Avenue Nicholas II which would become Avenue Winston Churchill,
and a bridge, Alexandre III in the same axis as the prestigious Hôtel
This was to be
a masterful piece, a perfect opus. But like all great projects, this one
stirred up massive criticism. Famous writers, although radically opposed
in their political views such Anatole France and Maurice Barres, argued
for Nancy (they were both from the Lorraine region) as the venue for the
l’Exposition Universelle. Others were shocked that one of the most
beautiful urban promenades in the world would be altered. And other
people were militant for keeping the Palace de l’Industrie….
A petition of
artists, among who were Rodin, Falguiere, Cavalille-Coll and Eugène
Carriere expressed confidence in the future….
strong in the Chamber of Deputies .The government project of introducing
income taxes did not help the debate and at end of the day, partisans
(supporters) of the Grand Palais won the battle.
competitions and expositions
On the 22
April 1896, a law was passed announcing a competition for the
construction of the Grand Palais in the Journal Officiel.
exposition galleries with a surface of more 40,000 square meters,
(430,556 sq. ft.), the Grand Palais would present two art
exhibits during the Exposition of 1900 -- one, a retrospective, the “Centennale”,
and the other contemporary art. After that it would be dedicated to
annual exhibits of the Beaux Arts, which were the pinnacle of the
artistic life in Paris, and to other events such as equestrian,
agricultural and flower events.
au Grand Palais, 1938-1939
would house a range of amenities such as a bar, a buffet, various
general administrative offices, a police station, and a concert hall, as
well as saddle makers, stables and horse feed stores.
different architecture projects were submitted. Under the guidance of
Charles Garnier the jury indicated that all projects showed great talent
but none of them were up to the task. It was therefore decided that the
most talented architects would submit new proposals. The solid classical
schooling of Louis Louvet, 1860-1936, a prize-winning architect, Henri
Deglane 1855-1931, Albert Thomas 1847-1907 and Charles Girault
1851-1932, distinguished architects and Grand Prix de Rome laureates,
guaranteed a certain level of quality.
chosen to build the Petit Palais and to supervise the construction of
the Grand Palais. Three men were necessary to build it and a fourth one
was needed to put all of their ideas and drawings together.
Then there was
the slowness of the administration of the French Planning office of the
exposition who reported directly to the minister of commerce and who
nominated the assistants to the architects.
worked with the architects, Deglane, Louvet and Thomas. The 23
assistants of Girault were also involved in the construction site. In
addition, there were a number of engineers involved in the construction
of the metallic structure.
it was probably this heavy hierarchy and tedious decision making which
saved the monument during a less-than popular period after the First
World War. A more extravagant and daring monument would probably not
have survived the 1930s. The way it was built with a classical metallic
structure and in a discreet Art Nouveau style, the Grand Palais survived
two world wars and architectural style changes.
this great vessel was gradually sinking into the ground. The great
flooding of the Seine in 1910 was a cause of alarm in a similar way to
Venice. The foundation of the Grand Palais was built on old oak pilings
pounded into the ground. The gradual decrease in the ground water level
caused the stakes to rot and the building to lean toward the south. The
foundation of the building sank about 15 cm (5.9 in.).
Just as the
tiny pea kept the Princess awake in the story of the Princess and the
Pea, this miniscule settling had great consequences.
toward the Seine, the structure of this enormous vessel was weakened and
could no longer be held together. In addition, the pinnacle on top of
the dome had a leak rusting the metallic frame of the roof.
This was made
worse by different structures put in place during exhibits such as the
prestigious car show weakening the frame. Like the Titanic, the Grand
Palais was slowly sinking while its metal frame was being twisted.
le salon de
l’Automobile de 1908 (L.L./Roger-Viollet)
restoration and consolidation of the building began in 2002 under the
supervision of France’s public building and national palaces (Bâtiments
civils et Palais nationaux). The first phase of the work, which was
to consolidate the foundation of the building, was completed in 2004.
New deeper foundations were built in order to secure the building to the
Two new levels
of underground basement surface were created. The metal framework was
stripped, repaired and repainted in their original color, pale Reseda
green. The roof windows which had already been replaced in the 1960s
were entirely replaced, primarily for security reasons. The glass used
at the time was not strong enough to withhold a worker falling on it. A
new method was found to reconstitute the initial support of the
structure and maintain its rhythm. The result is astonishing.
There is once
again a graphic harmony between the transparent glass and the support of
the metallic structure. Now the glass ceiling panels seem to emit
singing sounds generated by small changes in the outside temperature. As
for the dome it was elevated about one-inch thanks to hydraulic jacks to
allow the replacement of broken parts.