Between 1801 and 1849 – irrespective of the regime – the event was held on ten further occasions, each event of increasing size. In 1798, there were 110 exhibitors; the 1849 version featured 4,452. The guiding principle remained constant: the promotion of anything considered useful or ingenious, a Saint-Simonian conception which celebrated the wonders of industry and their creators, be it seamless clothing or a lifesaving machine for shipwrecked seamen. For each exhibition, a temporary edifice was erected, and later editions saw discussions over the widening of the event to include foreign participants. The government of the Second Republic adopted the idea, and it was decided that the 1849 exhibition would be international in scope. The proposal met, however, with disapproval from French industrialists, who were opposed to any sort of competition. It thus fell to Britain to hold the first international exhibition, the “Great exhibition of the works of industry of all nations”, which opened in London in 1851. Further proof of the organisers' innovation – and a development which would prove a high-water mark in the history of architecture – was the exhibition's installation in a revolutionary new building specially constructed for the purpose: the Crystal Palace, designed by Joseph Paxton.
Napoleon III’s decision
The exhibition in London was an unmitigated success: one million visitors through its doors, and five million pounds in profit. France also proved to be one of the competition's success stories. This triumph and the success of subsequent exhibitions held in Dublin, New York, New Orleans and Munich put an end to Malthusian opposition and Napoleon III – the driving force behind the initiative – green lit the project for France's first international exhibition in a series of decrees. Between 1852 and 1855, a number of announcements led to a succession of developments: the construction of the Palais des Expositions, the conversion (and temporary postponement) of the exposition nationale de l'industrie française of 1854 into the Universal Exhibition – open to all nations and set for 1 May, 1855 – and the creation of a simultaneous Fine Arts exhibition, which would be chaired by Prince Jerome Napoleon, whose enlightened opinions on the event matched those of the French emperor. Almost all of the European nations – Russia, with whom France and Britain were at war in the Crimea, refused to participate – accepted the emperor's invitation.
At the same time, it was decided that an edifice “capable of hosting public ceremonies… in line with the Crystal Palace system” would be constructed, thus bringing to an end the paradox of building a temporary structure every five years that had endured under Louis-Philippe. The project was announced by a decree dated 27 March 1852, the morning after the London exhibition. The Champs-Elysées was to be the location for the “Palais des Arts et de l'Industrie”, a new morphological construction, and a call for design projects was launched. Hector Horeau, a visionary yet seemingly cursed architect from the period, devoted much time to his proposal, imagining a large metallic construction; once again, his design failed to win over the judges.
Hittorff, architect behind the Champs-Elysées and thus to whom the commission perhaps should have been directed, presented his project: envisaging a pronounced, voluminous metallic structure, the design presaged a later construction, Victor Baltard's les Halles in Paris, but was ultimately deemed too small by the commission (should we attribute this refusal to an intervention from Haussmann, a constant thorn in Hittorff's side?). Napoleon III eventually declared in favour of a design by Alexis Barrault, an engineer with Saint-Simonian ties, with the construction duties given to two architects, Viel and Desjardin. These two were the team behind the huge building 250m long (larger than the Invalides facade) and 180m wide, with a central nave flanked by two smaller aisles, which was constructed on the Carré Marigny (the current site of the Grand and Petit Palais) in 1853, and which ran parallel to the Champs-Elysées. Never before had such an edifice in metal and glass been constructed; never before had a roof covered such a massive interior. The thirty-five metres between the floor and the keystone would offer an entirely unobstructed view. The radius alone of the curved metal trusses measured twenty-four metres in length.
Sadly, the exterior proved in sharp contrast to the beauty of the interior, the result of a long-held sentiment which declared that metal architecture, although suitable for spanning large spaces, was unworthy of display. It was therefore essential to camouflage it, hiding it from view – at least from the outside. The iron and cast-iron framework was thus enveloped – a design feature which continued to be employed for years afterwards – in a sheath of masonry, oppressive despite its four-hundred and eight windows. Great effort was made – ultimately in vain – to give the building an impressive allure: a monumental arch – decorated with columns, bas-reliefs, coloured marble and crowned with a group frieze, La France couronnant l'Art et l'Industrie, sculpted by Elias Robert – straddled the entrance (opposite the Elysée gardens), and projecting pavilions, statues, and ornaments could all be found dotted about its frame. Although the building was practical and introduced numerous innovations (such as metal fixings and inset glass), it was also ugly, a sin for which it was never forgiven.
Despite its five and a half hectares of interior space, the building – compared to an “ox trampling over a bed of roses” by Mirabeau – proved too small for the 24,000 participants, and exhibition organisers were forced to build an adjoining edifice – the Galerie des Machines, the first of its kind – which ran parallel to the banks of the Seine. Between these two giants organisers were also forced to make use of the rotunda built by Hittorff in 1839, which would house the Battle of Eylau panorama, an art attraction particularly in vogue at the time. These three buildings were joined by a number of galleries, and a second palace, on avenue Montaigne, was commandeered for the artistic wing of the exhibition. In total, the Exposition Universelle took up 90,000 square metres of floor-space.
Jerome Napoleon, nicknamed “Plon-Plon”, took his role most seriously: his competent oversight of the commission – which did not go unnoticed – was marked by numerous visits during the construction and installation process. The Moniteur Universel was subsequently moved to comment on his management of the project: “There is, it noted, a lesson to be taken from these time-consuming and frequent visits conducted by S.I.H.: the personification of government in [the form of] a great industrial army”. Enlightened despotism in a nutshell.
The apotheosis of Saint-Simonianism
The exhibition was to be the consecration of forty years of peace in Europe since the Battle of Waterloo. But the emperor also wanted to portray French weaponry and technology in a prestigious light. Opening its doors as war was waging in the Crimea – with few positive results to show for the allies' efforts – the exhibition's inauguration speech is testament to these circumstances. Bringing to fruition such an enterprise – in the midst of large-scale war – was to prove a truly outstanding achievement, and also highlights the paradoxical nature of the situation in Europe at the time: as canon-fire erupted over the Black Sea, and riots broke out in Saragossa and Barcelona, officials continued to insist that they were fighting for rights, justice, and civilisation. The goal of the exhibition was to bring people together, and during his inauguration speech, the emperor did not hesitate to “invite all the peoples of the earth to join together in harmony”, in a combination of chauvinism and candid internationalism.
The exhibition was also intended to mark the apotheosis of Saint-Simonianism. During the period, the disciples of aristocratic socialism and Barthélemy Prosper Enfantin were often the inspiration and stimulus behind the practical illustrations of certain strongly-held principles: develop production and increase consumption, with widened access to both; foster relations between nations and peoples; be “the driving force in the tireless spread of well-being in nations and peoples” (Raymond Isay); promote discovery and technological innovation; celebrate the wonders of art and industry, and those behind their conception. Clearly utopian in outlook, these principles were nevertheless manifested in acts which would have a clear resonance in society.
A number of the organisers behind the exhibition were impregnated by this doctrine. Michel Chevalier, president of the Consumer Economics commission, maintained that progress in industry, trade, and transport would lead to an improvement in the public's general condition, “provided that this progress conformed to standards of public morality and religious ethics”. Christian inspiration behind such beliefs was not unusual; Augustin Cochin also brought to the juries in which he participated an earnest social Catholicism. These principles also tied in with those held by Napoleon III himself, who, during his period in exile, had deliberated long and hard on the social questions of the day and envisaged the “eradication of pauperism”, an ideal that he held throughout his life, even if its realisation remained forever out of reach. As commissioner general for the exhibition, he named an individual he held in great esteem, the economist Frédéric Le Play, who for years had studied the world of work in numerous countries across the globe and who in 1855 would publish Les ouvriers européens, modèle de statistique sociale. Le Play would later be dubbed the founder of the “school of social peace”.
The general theme for the exhibition was innovative: place the emphasis on work. Previous exhibitions before 1855 had always celebrated the manufacturers and the owners. In 1855, the intention would be to honour the prototype builders, the designers, the craftsmen, and the workers, and industry heads were asked to nominate their best “co-operators” for awards. This initiative was to meet with little success: factory owners in France saw little interest in singling out their best workers only to see them poached by their industry competitors. At the same time, the industry mystique was celebrated as the driving force behind the intensifying economic evolution taking place in France. Up to this point, France had lived under a Napoleon-esque regime of strict protectionism. The second emperor's stay in England however had left him with a deep interest in the principles of free-exchange. Socially-minded and proponent of universal (male) suffrage, his wish was that the empire should bring well-being and a “good deal” (bon marché, a new expression that played an important role in his ambitions) to the working classes. The French department store Le Bon Marché was opened in 1852, and the term became the regime's watchword. This emphasis meant finally realising the generous utopias, and economic and social flights of fancy envisaged by the thinkers of the previous years, particularly between 1830 and 1848. In terms of building development and trade, the exhibition had the effect of a starter's gun: as the inauguration date approached, efforts intensified and construction work increased. Louis Girard remarked, “Rents for shops in the more elegant quarters [of Paris] have reached insane amounts. Parisians are complaining of provincials and foreigners who are saturating the market and forcing prices up.”
The exhibition took longer than expected to set up, an occurrence that would become the norm: the grand opening was pushed back to 15 May, and would thus – rather irritatingly for organisers – coincide with the execution of Pianori, the French emperor's would-be assassin. Other sections of the exhibition were inaugurated later, and the event's closing date was in turn rescheduled for 15 November.
The Palais de l’Industrie
The Palais de l'Industrie, in effect a gigantic catalogue of creation and industry, was home to every participating country's manufactured wares. Britain's presence at the exhibition was second only to France – just as it had been for the French in London in 1851 – as the two nations' peaceful but competitive relationship continued, running in parallel to their military collaboration in the Crimea.
As well as the spectacular and grandiose constructions – such as Foucault's pendulum – that could be seen on display, the exhibition also provided a stage for the smaller inventor, who could present his or her future innovations to the public – even if some left visitors slightly mystified. It was in 1855 that an engineer named Vicat introduced the public to his hydraulic lime, a key development in the cement industry, and it was at the same exhibition that Lambot presented his boat made from reinforced concrete. Few visitors understood the point of this invention, even fewer foresaw the important role it would play in the years to come. Loysel's hydrostatic percolator, capable of producing fifty-thousand cups of coffee on a daily basis, was better received, however. Likewise Madame Plé-Marin's aloe lace hats, or the collodion process, for developing multiple photographic prints, or even the baby bottle introduced by a certain Weisner, clearly expert in marketing (as recorded by Pascal Ory):
“What attentive mother has not trembled in fear for their adored child when they see the wet-nurse struck down by even the mildest of turns? Is the wet-nurse alright? Will she give milk? Will it be good?
– Dear lady, do not fret, there is a way to ensure that you always have a good wet-nurse: cheap, undemanding, even-tempered, never rude, always gentle, amiable, and above all easy to keep. A wet-nurse whom one can carry about oneself, which will not take up any space… a model, ideal, yet practical wet-nurse. Come come, my lady, dry those beautiful eyes, smile to your crying baby, and send out to M. Darbo: he will give you a bottle, with or without teat. Decorated bottles, brightly coloured bottles, even a musical bottle if you so wish.”
The field of gastronomy was also well represented: it was at the exhibition that the sixty-two Bordeaux crus were officially classified.
Decorative arts and machines
The decorative arts also found their home in the Palais de l'Industrie, separated – as was the norm – from the major art works also exposed at the exhibition. Often products of an impeccable, at times even virtuosic technique, they nevertheless formed part of an occasionally redundant, profoundly eclectic and overabundant decor, inspired by pseudo-Gothicism, Italian Renaissance, and “historicism” which had been misappropriated in the name of ornament worship, excess, and a deeply-held fear of open space. The decorative arts at the exhibition were also characterised by the use of “fake”: real ebony was replaced by blackened pearwood, cast-bronze was exchanged for “bronze sculpture”, a product of Barbedienne's electroplating. Ory again noted: “Stalls at the exhibition overflowing with 'superb objets d'art' are nothing but a kaleidoscopic version of this century's plush interiors”. In particular, the Ruolz process – later used by the Christofle manufactory – was honoured, with Napoleon III ordering a hundred-piece service for the sum of eight-hundred thousand francs.
Countries participating in the event displayed their exhibits side-by-side, under the same roof, with no separation, leading to constant comparison and little differentiation between the nations involved. In 1867, distinct national pavilions were introduced across the exhibition; this formula reached its apogee at the 1937 edition.
At the time that it was built, Hittorff's rotunda was innovative, with a diameter of forty metres, and a suspended roof structure. The building, modified for the exhibition, was destined to house the creations intended for the emperor and empress. Anything associated with the imperial house – official decorative art, tapestries, porcelain – was arranged around the French crown jewels. Although the rotunda comes across as a summary of the event, in effect the exhibition's rostrum, it also featured Colonel Colt's revolver, pianos by Erard and Pleyel, and a new instrument by the Belgian inventor, Adolphe Sax: the saxophone.
The Galerie des Machines – one-thousand two hundred metres long but only twenty-eight wide – ran parallel to the banks of the Seine, with resolutely classical entrances at either end. These led to a large nave with metal semi-circular trusses. The section housed within was purely technical, a veritable temple to industry in which France and Britain squared up in competition. Countless steam-powered machines turned all day long, creating a deafening din. Cockerill's steam engine – capable of pulling a load of four-hundred and fifty tonnes of coal – was displayed there, as was the Crampton locomotive, built by the Cail firm, which could reach an average hourly speed of one hundred kilometres. Also housed in the Galerie des Machines was the Marinoni rotary press, a development behind the expansion and diversification of the press industry, sewing machines by Baker and Grover, and Singer, which saw the beginnings of an intriguing industrial rivalry.
The mega-Salon de l’Art
The artistic side of the event went for novelty. In every previous exhibition since 1798, art had been ignored or neglected. Even in London in 1851, it occupied only a minor place in proceedings. For the Paris edition, it was accorded a prime position more in keeping with the widely-recognised importance of French art in Europe.
To accommodate this wave of innovative art, the French architect Lefuel – who had replaced Visconti for the works oversight at the Louvre – was commissioned to built a neo-Renaissance-style building with a large concave entrance porch on avenue Montaigne, at the time undeveloped and unfrequented. Artists and sculptors of all nationalities were invited to exhibit their work at this artistic universal exhibition, where they could present work from every stage of their career before a sixty-member jury. It was to be a mega-salon, without geographical or historical limits, which would offer all visitors an overall view of everything produced during the period.
Ingres and Delacroix emerged victorious in the painting section, each one matching the other for success, and both accorded almost an entire room to house their respective works. Ingres established his claim as the heir to the great artists in history, presenting at the salon a retrospective of his work spanning fifty years, including Œdipe, Le voeu de Louis XIII, Odalisque, and Saint Symphorien. The jury was unanimous in its praise; even Théophile Gautier, the Romantic critic remembered for his appearance at the premiere of Victor Hugo's Hernani, hailed Ingres as a Zeus-like figure, “seated on his throne of gold and ivory, at Art's summit, the abode of glorious achievement”. Much like his Homère – also on display at the Salon – Ingres underwent a sort of deification, and was promoted to the rank of grand-officier of the Légion d'honneur, a grade never before awarded to an artist. Delacroix, for his part, presented a breathtaking series of well-known works, including Barque de Dante, Les femmes d'Alger, and Entrée des croisés à Constantinople, depicting the dramatic entrance of the western warrior into the city. These were joined by more recent works, such as La chasse aux lions, and Les deux Foscari. Although awarded the necklet and grade of commandeur of the Légion d'honneur, he would have to wait two years to be inducted into the Institut. More than simply intensifying their rivalry, 1855 proved the occasion to see their work honoured by the ruling regime.
Placing the two artists in the same proximity did little however to improve their mutual hostility. In Ingres, this manifested itself in outright aggression; in Delacroix distrust. Maxime du Camp records how a banker unaware of the conflict succeeded in inviting the two painters to dinner whilst the exhibition was still on. Learning too late of this insult, Ingres – the meal finished, and with a cup of coffee in hand – advanced towards Delacroix, who was standing near the chimney, and shouted:
“- Monsieur! Painting is integrity, it is honour!
Shaking as he spoke, he spilt his cup of coffee over his shirt and coat. He cried out: 'This is too much!' Seizing his hat he said:
– I am leaving; I shall not stay a minute longer to be insulted like this!
We hurried around him, trying to calm him, prevent him from leaving. Our efforts proved in vain. Stopping in front of the door, he turned round:
'Yes, monsieur, it is honour! Yes, monsieur, it is integrity!'
Besides these two heavyweights, also present were artists whose work is less appreciated today, but who at the time proved extremely popular with the general public: Decamps – who like Delacroix and Ingres had a room to himself – Meissonier, and Horace Vernet, all proponents of a more academic, anecdotic and coherent style of painting. The chef d'oeuvre of this particular movement's presence at the exhibition was Winterhalter's L'impératrice Eugénie et ses dames d'honneur, presented for the first time, which depicted the empire's leading lady in a dazzling light. Over five thousand canvases in total were presented over the course of the exhibition, at a near unimaginable rate; one after another, elbows brushing, each one a tiny piece of a gigantic puzzle suspended from a picture rail.
And what of Gustave Courbet, whose for many years had sought to offer an alternative view of the world, one more realistic and plebeian in style? His body of work would upon first impression seem to embody the very leitmotif of the exhibition: the ties that bind men and things to their time and place, the illustration of society and its trends at the time. Thirteen of his canvases were offered to the exhibition, of which eleven – which are today widely revered – were accepted, including Les casseurs de pierres, La recontre, and Les cribleuses de blé. But the jury was to refuse the artist's two most cherished paintings – the two, incidentally, for which he is best known today – L'Enterrement à Ornans (which curiously had been accepted for the previous year's salon) and L'Atelier. The painter, profoundly wounded by the rejection, vowed revenge. On the same street, avenue Montaigne, opposite the Palais des Beaux-Arts, Courbet installed a free-standing booth in which he exhibited forty of his works, including the two which had been rejected. The artist charged a one franc entry fee, and there was to be none of the jostling of the official exhibition, if Delacroix – taking time out from the salon and well placed to judge – is to be believed:
“I was there for nearly an hour, alone, and I found the rejected painting [l'Atelier] to be a masterpiece; I could not tear myself away from it. In [ignoring] this painting, they have dismissed one of the most singular works of our time.”
As far as sculptors were concerned, the star of the show was the great François Rude, whose statue of Maréchal Ney had been erected at the carrefour de l'Observatoire two years earlier. The variety and strength of his oeuvre – amongst which were Jeune pêcheur, Mercure, and Buste de femme – found many admirers amongst the general public, but his participation in the exhibition was to prove fatal. His exertions as member of the jury cost him his life, and he passed away on the very eve of the awards ceremony. Only one other living sculptor was deemed great enough to stand at Rude's side at the exhibition. Yet Antoine-Louis Barye sent only one statue, Jaguar dévorant un lièvre, which was displayed in the Palais de l'Industrie as the work of a “maker of bronze sculpture”, a profession that nevertheless brought him a great deal of money and fame. Honorary mentions should also go to Etex, who like Rude was involved in sculpting the Arc de Triomphe; Dumont, the man behind Génie de la Bastille; and Duret, whose Chateaubriand can today – thanks to this author's efforts – be found in Chateaubriand's Vallée aux Loups property.
France's first universal exhibition, which featured twenty-four thousand exhibitors – including twelve thousand foreign nationals -, received only five million visitors. For the first time, an entry fee was charged, and the visitors through the exhibition's doors were counted by another invention, the turnstile. Sunday, at just 0.20 Francs, was given over to the “working classes”, whilst the 3 Francs entry made Friday the fashionable day for visiting. Anyone arriving on the other days paid a standard 1 Franc price. However, the imperial government – in keeping with its socialised principles – donated ten thousand free entry tickets to workers, and trains and special visits were organised to encourage them to attend the exhibition.
A number of illustrious visitors also passed through the exhibition's doors. One of the first was Abd el-Kader, freed by Louis-Napoleon in 1852, and who proved an enthusiastic onlooker: “This place, he exclaimed in reference to Viel's construction, is a palace of intelligence, invigorted by the breath of god!”
Hot on his heels was the young King of Portugal, eighteen years-old and looking more like a student, and Queen Victoria, who visited Paris between 18 and 26 August. No British monarch had set foot in the French capital since the Hundred Years War. After a stop at the exhibition, the emperor and the British sovereign returned to the Elysée. Whilst Napoleon III strolled in the gardens and told stories which made the then aged thirteen Prince of Wales – the future Edward VII – laugh “very hard”, the queen was installed in the Salon de l'Hémicycle, receiving the diplomatic corps. Dressed in a white layered dress and holding a white velvet bag with a gold-embroidered poodle design, Victoria looked more like a member of the petite bourgeoisie. At the gala event held in the queen's honour, the orchestra played “God Save The Queen”.
Napoleon III also took Victoria and her husband on a curious visit to see the ruins of Louis-Philippe's castle in Neuilly and, most notably, to a torch-lit ceremony to see the coffin containing Napoleon Bonaparte, not yet laid to rest in its monumental tomb. The French public was charmed by the British queen, whose good grace and lack of pretension proved a winning combination, and Napoleon III made a gift of Meissonier's La Rixe – purchased for twenty-five thousand Francs from the Beaux-Arts section of the exhibition – to Albert.
The exhibition also had, of course, its detractors: Renan raged at the idea of the whole of Europe being encouraged “to visit some merchandise”, arguing that the religious festivals of the Middle Ages had “given way to industrial county fairs”. Baudelaire even coined a new verb – one that remains popular today: américaniser.
In many ways, the exhibition was like theatre, an event in which music had its part to play. Jacques Offenbach, then conductor of the orchestra at the Comédie Française, hired a room on the site of the modern-day Théâtre Marigny that was known for its amusing phantasmagorical theatre productions. Naming the theatre the Bouffes d'été, he held concerts there during the exhibition's run, taking advantage of the continuous flow of visitors in and out of the Palais de l'Industrie.
Behind the scenes, the exhibition was also a driving force, powering in particular the banking sector. Speculation and agiotage reached new heights and 1855, notable for the issue of two government bonds, proved particularly to be a particularly active year, fiscally-speaking. A new financial aristocracy was born, lead by the Rothschild and Pereire families. It also influenced Paris' transformation: the omnibus lines were merged in 1855, and in 1856 a new bridge was thrown across the Seine as part of avenue Bosquet: the edifice, which would be named after the famous Crimean battle at Alma, still features the original Deibolt zouave from the 1856 construction. In anticipation of an increased number of visitors to Paris, the Hôtel du Louvre – financed by the Pereire brothers and designed by Alfred Armant, Rohault de Fleury and Hittorff – was built and became the first Parisian hotel to come with a lift. Today it is the Louvre des antiquaires. The event would finish on a high: the capture of the Malakhov and the fall of Sebastopol which handed to the allies victory in the Crimea coincided with success of a more peaceful kind, on the banks of the Seine. In his report on the exhibition, Jerome Napoleon described it – rather wishfully – as “the creator of substantial bonds [capable of] uniting Europe as one large family”.
The awards ceremony thus took place in a triumphal atmosphere. In the Palais de l'Industrie, by now cleared of its exhibits and adorned with tapestries, Berlioz conducted one thousand musicians and choir singers in renditions of his Te Deum and Cantate impériale. Afterwards, Napoleon III – standing on a stage flanked by eagles – handed out 11,033 carefully ordered certificates.
The exhibition took no more than 3,000,000 Francs, against a list of expenses that totalled 11,500,000 Francs. However, the building trade profited immensely (after all, another avowed goal of Saint-Simonianism was the advancement of technology), with innovations in metalwork and early reinforced concrete constructions present at the event. The buildings erected for the exhibition met varying fates: Lefuel's Palais des Beaux-Arts, the Galerie des Machines, and the rotunda were soon after demolished, with the latter coming down in 1856.1 The enormous Palais des Arts et de l'Industrie also hosted later exhibitions, in 1878 and 1889, but was demolished prior to the 1900 edition to be replaced by the Grand and Petit Palais. The sculptures by Elias Robert, Diebolt and Desboeufs that decorated the building's facade were installed in the Parc de Saint-Cloud; visitors out for a stroll are often entirely unaware of the origins of these statues. Another little-known fact: the massive clock taken from the Palais de l'Industrie was inserted into the Grand Palais. In 2001 it was removed and dismantled in preparation for restoration works. These works are still expected to go ahead.
The exhibition was in some ways a curious occurrence: a testament to the economic and industrial success of the Second Empire, certainly, but also an event in which two entirely antonymic paintings could be viewed within a few feet of one another. It is intriguing to consider whether those who had a chance to experience L'imperatrice Eugénie et ses dames d'honneur and l'Atelier almost side by side remarked on the paradox, or even appreciated its symbolism.