This exhibition, which was intended to be a prestige operation, was seen as a manifestation of national glory, and the enterprise was led and supported by the State. Napoleon III wanted to take up the English challenge: "From the point of view of architecture, the 1855 exhibition represents a singular mixture of grandeur and inadequacy, error and novelty. Its conception was magnificent: it was open to all nations; it welcomed all the products of man's hand and mind. However, the realisation of the exhibition did not have the scope and originality that such a programme demanded... In London, the entire exhibition was concentrated inside the Crystal Palace; in Paris, it was presented, as one might say, in a dispersed state.
Indeed, the Palais de l'Industrie, intended to rival London's dazzling achievement, was initially designed to replace the temporary buildings of the national exhibitions organised since 1798 and to serve for public ceremonies. On 8 March 1853, a decree from the emperor stipulated that a Universal Exhibition of agricultural and industrial products would inaugurate the opening of the palace; then, on 22 June, a Fine Arts Exhibition was added, which did not exist in London and which became an important component of future exhibitions in all countries.
The Imperial Commission, chaired by the Emperor's cousin, Prince Louis Napoleon, realised that it was impossible to hold all the events in a single building, and so annexes had to be created. A cast iron and wooden machine gallery, reserved for machines in motion, was installed on the Quai de Billy; a Palais des Beaux-Arts, in the French Renaissance style, was entrusted to Hector Lefuel (1810 - 1881), and located at the corner of the Avenue Montaigne, near which Gustave Courbet, unhappy at having been refused his large composition L'Atelier, built a basic wooden and brick pavilion that housed forty of his compositions. The Beaux-Arts exhibition, where the painter presented eleven paintings, officially opened on 15 May, due to delays in the work on the two main palaces, and Courbet's pavilion on 28 June. Numerous small buildings sprang up in the gardens, "elegant bazaars with a thousand colours", spread out along the alleys, next to the summer circus built by Hittorff in 1840, as well as sales counters, an international bazaar of universal industry, panoramas, buffets; the built complex covered 17 hectares.
Despite the great success of this exhibition, which welcomed 5 million visitors, it ended with a deficit of 8300,000 francs.