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Russian facilities - Expo Paris 1867

Russian facilities at the Exhibition Expo Paris 1867

Russia, according to geographers, occupies fourteen thousand kilometres of the earth from east to west; - five thousand six hundred from north to south; - seventeen thousand diagonally from southwest to northeast. Its borders touch Prussia and North America. China and Austria, Turkey and Persia are her neighbours, and these immense expanses, subject to the all-powerful will of the Emperor, contain nearly eighty millions of inhabitants.

At the Exhibition, Sweden and Italy limit her territory by six thousand meters, and thirteen hundred and ninety-two exhibitors represent her. The whole world, it is true, in meeting at the Champ de Mars, was content with one hundred and fifty thousand square metres, and man is so small when he measures himself against the greatness of nature, that to create a shelter of this size against the rain and the sun, and to succeed in bringing together in this place all the products of the universe, is rightly looked upon as a prodigious work which strikes one with astonishment: the realisation of the dream of the Tower of Babel. This time the eye has become the instrument of the universal language.

When we see these diverse testimonies of intelligence and work, and when we contemplate these personifications of the life, and so to speak, of the soul of each people, our thoughts awaken, a new emotion seizes our spirit, an interior tremor gives way to I don't know what fluid makes us understand those whose works we are looking at, and brings us closer or further away by a double current similar to the movements of electricity, to which we surrender without even trying to give it a name. Ask the crowds at the Russian Exhibition.
Russian Exhibition.

The very particular character of the architecture, the originality of the installation and arrangements which so well suits this empire, placed between Europe and Asia as the new link between the two worlds, the variety of productions, the extreme civilisation: the extreme barbarism, a sort of wild strangeness, the East with all its astonishments, the arts with a very particular flavour, and the products of the earth and of the flocks, gathered together as in the time of the patriarchs, attract and retain by turns. Gold and precious stones from the rivers and mountains, which by their remoteness take on a kind of fantastic character, are mixed and reunited there; furs and pelts from the North, silks from the South, ceramics from the Caucasus and pottery from the Tartars of the Crimea, brocades with brilliant reflections and these bright red cotton fabrics, these Koumatch so sought after by the peasants, the cloths which the trade carries across the deserts to China, the ordinary market of these special manufactures; the candles of the monastery of Kief, covered with gold and ornaments. Other monasteries in great numbers also make them; and burned devoutly before the protective image of the domestic hearth, they testify to the strange and violent faith of this people. The preparations made from reindeer horn in the government of Arkangel and the dried lampreys used for lighting in Baku in the Caucasus; the marvellous furniture in hard stone and the wealth of goldsmiths' work of such original taste all near the axe of the Kirgiz sent by Djanghyr, Kirgliiz sultan of the district of Kopotinia. - Then all these ores, woods, hides, hemp, wool; grains of all kinds: wheat, barley, oats, buckwheat, millet, rice, corn, all those products of the earth which in our years of suffering and famine the merchants of Marseilles bring in from Russia, agricultural machinery, resins and ropes, works of iron, and steel,-those cannons and models of battleships all beside a column, The most curious, perhaps, because it is composed solely of the wooden or matted utensils that the peasants make themselves, provoke attentive curiosity and give rise on the part of the many visitors, and especially the French, to expressions of lively sympathy.

Everyone, moreover, pays tribute to the method, the good taste, the artistic feeling which has governed the arrangement of the products and the elegance of the constructions. This is a great honour for the Russian Commission presided over by His Highness the Duke of Leuchtenberg, and Messrs Boutovski, Thaï, Grigorovitch and Tcherniaef, members of this Commission, have worthily fulfilled the mandate entrusted to them. With the exception of the colonnade and the arches in fir wood which border the large passage common to Italy and Russia, a colonnade executed in Paris by the care and under the direction of M. Bénard, all the installations of the Russian section, cupboards, showcases, shelves, tables in fir wood of such a coquettish and varied form come from Petersburg, where Charles Briggen established them, and were assembled in Paris by Russian workmen.

Russia is therefore very much at home in the Palais de l'Exposition, and its work belongs entirely to it. It can justly claim credit for it, for it is difficult to choose a happy layout which, by better bringing out the whole of the products, allows the air and the daylight to come in profusion on those which, by their elegant nature, demanded a special environment, a sort of salon where they can be lifted up by each other.

Further on, the arches cease, and the large display windows established in the same style, are furnished with magnificent gold and silk fabrics, to give way, as we approach the machinery nave, to a wall of leathers in various colours.

We do not propose to study the Russian Exhibition today and summarise the lessons it contains. - In the midst of these glorifications of practical life, there is sometimes an extreme satisfaction in giving oneself up to the pleasure of the view, without thinking of the serious results. - It is a lure, no doubt, an illusion perhaps, for in the century in which we live, in the midst of the feverish life to which our generation is condemned, no one can long avoid the useful. In order to exist, we must bear the weight of it, and very quickly we must return to it. - At the Russian Exhibition the harvest will be plentiful, and it is important to realise the greatness and weaknesses, the instructions and warnings gathered in this narrow space, which seems to have been made so coquettish and charming in order to better captivate and seduce us. Let us therefore quickly follow the main path leading to the Suffren Gate from the central garden, and indicate the main objects that the visitor will encounter on his way.

In the room devoted to the fine arts, there are works worthy of attention, and Lieberich's bronzes of fine workmanship; but from the first moment you enter a strange world. It is far from the impressions of the West, and the mind has to get used to it. The curious room devoted to the history of work, reminding us of the starting point and the course followed, is of great interest for discerning the trends and the results obtained. Nearby is the room containing the drawings of the Moscow Technical School, the only professional school in Russia, and statuettes representing the costumes of the different provinces of this empire where thirty different languages are spoken, reductions of various animal models and paper samples. The corridor between this room and the main hall is lined with photographs, containing the works that are most likely to attract the attention of idlers and the interest of people of taste.

If one glances at this room through the original wooden arches which close it on the side of the large passage leading to the Suffren Gate, and sees the magnificent mosaic executed by Michel Chmiliewski at the Imperial establishment in St. Petersburg after the originals of Professor Neff, one will immediately try to enter this room with its consolations and elegant display cases, which contains true masterpieces of goldsmithing.
When you are tired of duty and admiration, the weapons, the carpets, the clothes and the marvellous embroideries of the Caucasus and Georgia will come to revive your attention. On the other side you will find warriors covered with their national clothes and the skin suits of the Siberian natives sent by M. Sidoroff; you will thus go from astonishment to astonishment, from curiosity to curiosity, always sustained by the unknown, passing through all these products of a thousand kinds, passing the block of malachite weighing 2176 kilos, a fortune coming from M. Paul Demidoff's mines, stopping to look at it. Paul Demidoff's mines, stopping for a moment in front of the graceful assembly of Siberian wooden vases containing the grains and sheaves of the Empire, and admiring all these productions which we have barely indicated, without being able to say enough about the extent to which the classification, the clarity and the taste with which the smallest object is arranged, are a credit to the organisers of the Russian exhibition, and make it easy for the visitor to examine and search. - Supported in this way and carried by your curiosity, you will easily reach the borders, where the Russian restaurant invites you to stop.

The installation has all the local colour that the most difficult person must seek. - The boys are dressed in the silk shirts used in Moscow and a Russian woman in national costume presides over the distribution of the special dishes found there. After having crossed the Russian territory, we will certainly have great pleasure in living, if only for a moment, in the lives of those whose work and products have aroused our curiosity and interest.

Let us ask the beautiful Russian woman for a cup of the fragrant tea that the caravans have brought directly from China, and since the table, as the old saying goes, is the matchmaker of friendship, let us indulge in all the joys and singular surprises that the dishes in honour in Moscow and Petersburg offer us. The Russians and the French are made to get along, and the Crimean war seems to have retreated into a mutual esteem, which this noble and peaceful struggle of the arts and industry will further strengthen.

©L'Exposition Universelle de 1867 Illustrée