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Museums of Modern Art - Expo Paris 1937

Museums of Modern Art at the Exhibition Expo Paris 1937
© La Photolith
Architect(s) : Dondel, Aubert, Viart, Dastuge

The Museums of Modern Art, whose construction was decided following a competition between architects at the end of 1934, were built for the 1937 Exhibition.

They were built for the 1937 Exhibition, one as a State Museum to house the collections of the Musée du Luxembourg and the other as a City of Paris Museum to become an annex of the Petit Palais.

The construction of the Museums of Modern Art, in an extremely short time on an irregular and inconsistent site, posed a very difficult problem for the architects, who were beset by the most diverse criticisms. As soon as the building site was opened, the schedule for the execution of the work had to be decided. The finalization of this schedule, which provided for the intervention of twenty trades and the daily work of more than a thousand workers, both for the preparation of materials in the factory and in the quarry and for the implementation of these materials, was an extremely delicate task.

There should be no mistakes or omissions in this multi-coloured chart, because the success or failure of the completion of the Museums of Modern Art within the planned time limit depended on it.

Nearly two thousand concrete piles, driven in the middle of a flood of the Seine, resting on a sandbank 16 metres below the surface, support the reinforced concrete framework; the double-walled façades are made of hard stone from our most beautiful quarries in Burgundy and the Ile-de-France.

It was difficult, in the presence of this magnificent terrain overlooking the Seine and with gradients of more than 10 metres, to resist the classical inspiration.

The colonnade carved in the blocks of this beautiful Ecuelles stone, branched like Travertine and shining in the sun, establishes a link between the two Museums, perhaps purely decorative. But it invites you to pass through, and from the Avenue du Président Wilson, it offers a very pretty view of the bend in the Seine and the shadows of the Quai de Tokio, whose large plane trees have been scrupulously respected.

It precedes a succession of tiered terraces so favourable to lively open-air sculpture exhibitions.

The main entrances were not wanted on the Quai de Tokio because this fast-moving artery does not lend itself well to parking. Instead, they were moved to Avenue du Président-Wilson, near the Musée Galliéra, at an intermediate level between the various floors. A wide clearance allowed cars to reach these entrances.

As the façades had been treated in a simple, grand order, it was necessary for the sculpture to accompany, punctuate but not overwhelm this order.

The large bas-relief executed by Janniot accompanies the external steps, then freely overflows and colours the two large walls facing the Seine. This bas-relief by Janniot should be seen more as a search for arabesques and plastic volumes than as a subject; and if a subject is needed, let us say that Janniot has dealt here with the legend and the muses, but a legend whose characters are composed according to sketches taken from life.

On the two wings opening onto the Quai de Tokio and the Seine, Baudry and Gaumont, closer to the human scale, write in a succession of rhythmic metopes, short scenes in which a whole charming world of centaurs and naiads evolves, these metopes accompany with lively notes the somewhat severe cadence of the high windows of the façades.

Bizette Lindet and Forestier, working on the same canvas, but with profound differences of spirit in the detail, focus their efforts on each of the two large entrance doors to the Museums. While Dideron painted an allegorical figure of the City of Paris for the door on the Quai de Tokio. Févola executed the arabesque of the central fountain, Drivier, Guénot and Dejean gave the elongated figures placed in front of the water mirror. There was not enough time, and a short deadline did not allow Despiau to complete the great figure of creative genius on which he was working by the opening date of the exhibition. It will soon replace Bourdelle's France in the centre of the Palais, which currently occupies this location.

The layout of the interior volumes has been studied with the constant aim of avoiding any monotony. The unevenness of the terrain is exploited for effect. The rooms, of varying dimensions, are linked by staircases which are themselves treated as parking and exhibition elements.

Each gallery has been given a number of cells, each school will find its place: the great Idea and its influences, the masterpiece and its teaching.

The rooms, hastily fitted out to allow the installation of the splendid exhibition of the masterpieces of French Art, will only take on their true physiognomy after the closing of the Exhibition. The works on display will be given more space; the visitor will find more peace and quiet in the less overcrowded rooms.

The rooms on the entrance level will be used for temporary exhibitions and new acquisitions.

In each of the Museums, curatorial offices, a library and outbuildings are provided. These premises are in easy communication with the drawing and medal rooms, which are deliberately located outside the public circuit. The complex is completed by a conference room with a projection booth, which can accommodate an audience of two hundred and fifty people and is accessible from both museums.

Copyright 1937 Paris International Exhibition Visitors' Book