It has been said, but in our opinion it has not been repeated often enough, that the divisions and distribution of the Champ de Mars palace is a quite remarkable work and does the greatest honour to M. Krantz, the one of our engineers to whom the government always entrusts work that seems almost impossible to carry out. The conception of the whole is not his: he measured the space, drew the contours, determined the heights, indicated the main divisions, and was left with all the responsibility for the execution. By forcing him to confine himself absolutely to the instructions given to him, it was made impossible for him to execute a work with an imposing exterior and a monumental character; he took his revenge by creating a marvel.
All the interior arrangements of this vast Palace are indeed nothing less than that; and if from a distance the visitor remains astonished and cold at the sight of an architectural configuration all of an arrival and of a sad monotony, he is as if amazed when, after having crossed the magnificent avenue which from the Iéna bridge leads to the Palace, he enters the great nave of the machines. There, the grandiose side of a construction whose vast proportions are not apparent to the outside world is suddenly revealed to him. This nave, twenty-five metres high and thirty-five metres wide, the middle of which is occupied by a platform that extends around the entire perimeter of the building, that is to say, over an area of twelve hundred metres, is no less astonishing for its bold cut than for a development that the eye guesses but cannot follow in the vast circle it embraces.
If the steam rumbles and bubbles, if the machines make their evolutions, if the looms are in motion and set in play the reels and shuttles if the organs flood the nave with their streams of harmony, the visitor is, in spite of himself, attracted by these confused noises, and turning then to the right or to the left, He devotes his first visit to the study and examination of all these industries which work side by side and each one executes its products as in a vast factory, or, to put it better, in a common beehive whose thousand cells would be occupied by as many workshops in full activity.
But if, to the right and to the left, all is silent around the visitor, he continues his walk in a straight line and immediately enters the great vestibule, or the gallery which serves as the entrance of honour and leads from the work nave to the central garden.
This gallery has the same elevation as the nave, and a width of fifteen meters; it is cut on each side by b s entrances to seven circular galleries where all the industries are classified according to their speciality,' their analogies and their nationality.
When it left the hands of Mr. Krantz, this magnificent gallery had a monumental and grandiose aspect which it no longer has, although it arouses in all visitors a just admiration; the day when the engineer delivered to the Commission his naked work, the noble order, the beautiful lines, the vast development of this entrance of honour astonished everyone by their majesty and their harmony. The best thing that could have been done was to preserve the physiognomy and character of this most important part of the Palais; but, through misfortune or clumsiness, this was not done, and the spirit that presided over the division of the different parts and the distribution of the places has completely attenuated the effect of the original work.
If some are to be believed, this vestibule is the exact summary of the Universal Exhibition; if some others are to be believed, it is its magnificent synthesis; this is to say the same thing in different terms; but summary and synthesis are no more accurate than the other: The real truth is that the vestibule does not summarise or synthesise anything, and anyone who, after having walked through it from one end to the other and examined it in all directions, would not take his visit any further, would leave the Champ de Mars without having even a confused notion of the marvels that science, art and industry have accumulated there.
Seen from the entrance door and in its entirety, it makes an indefinable impression on all; its extent, its width, its elevation astonish; the boldness of its immense arched vault is an object of admiration for everyone; Its high and vast bays furnished with painted stained glass windows, which shade the light they filter, attract and caress the eye, which only detaches itself from it to lose itself and rest for a moment in the graceful perspective presented, at its end, by the gushing waters and the fresh shrubs of the central garden.
Let the visitor's gaze be drawn back to the rich stained-glass windows, resplendent with colour and gilt, with which Messrs. Oudinot, Didron, Coffetier, Maréchal, Lusson, Powell, Hardman, Ward and Hugues have decorated the two sides of this hall. These works, so varied in design and form, and whose execution is so happy and pure, seem to be true reproductions of the art of our ancient glassmakers: they are the most magnificent crowning touch that could be given to an entrance of honour. By great good fortune, their place was as if determined in advance by the layout of the place, and those who presided over the general layout could not establish them either higher or lower. Why should the place and classification of the products of the various industries not also have been imposed by a reason of locality? This great hall would then have been a true summary, a faithful synthesis of the Universal Exhibition, instead of being what it is, a confused and quite insignificant preface.
On the left, as we enter, what displays present themselves to our eyes? Those of nine clothing companies. Whatever esteem we have for the industry of Messrs Despaigne, Lavigne et Chéron, Opigez-Gagelin, Mathieu et Garnot, Doucet, Enout et Cie, and that of the Magasins du Louvre, the Coin de rue and the Compagnie lyonnaise, we find it strange that they have been given the better half of the gallery, and that they are presented as the top of the basket of our national industry. Why are there still two furniture manufacturers and two bookshops in a row? Wouldn't it have been a hundred times better to choose a speciality in each type of industry instead of piling them up like this? It would have been understandable if, next to Despaigne, we had placed one of the renowned flower manufacturers, Baulant, for example, then Tahan, then Didot, Hachette or Marne, then Pillivuyt, Verdé-Delisle, Roudillon or Lemoine, and so on, one of the most illustrious representatives of our main industries. In walking through the great hall, one would have seen various specimens of the entire Exhibition pass before his eyes, and Ton would have been initiated into its subject from the first steps.
To the right of the great hall, on the English side, the distribution of places was perhaps made with more discernment; however, there again Gillow and Crace, the two most renowned furniture makers of London, Wedgwood, Copeland and Minton, whose industries, though distinct, have too many points of analogy and resemblance, should not have been placed side by side; but what it would have been in good taste not to place in the foreground is the Gothic building, with spire and belfries, erected by Messrs. Waters and Company, of Manchester, by means of a mass of cotton reels of all colours.
This work of patience is quite successful, but it looks too much like a toy for it to be in its proper place and for visitors to take it seriously; one casts a curious and astonished glance at the whole in passing, but disdains to examine the parts, which alone have value and real importance.
But has the centre of this hall been arranged in a happier way, and should not most of the objects there have been given room for others? What was the intention in assembling there so many heavy pieces of English silverware, cups, shields, horses and groups of solid or embossed silver, noble prizes won in the races at Ascot and Epsom, by the most illustrious jockeys of England, and awarded to the owners of the local Gladiators?
Why not have given a place of honour in the very centre of this gallery to the bronze-onyxes of M. Viot, instead of relegating them, as has been done, to an obscure and narrow space of less than four feet square?
And was not Barbedienne also entitled to a place of honour in this hall? Does not the least successful bronze that comes out of his workshops (assuming that he lets one out that does not completely satisfy him) show ten times more study, art and taste than the figures of riders and horses and the expressionless and motionless groups of Messrs. Angell and Garrard, of London?
Certainly the shield of Mr. Elkington is a remarkable work of art, the groups of Mr. Hunt and Roskell are distinguished from all those around them by the skill and artistry which presided over their execution; the earthenware of Mr. Minton, statues, seats, washbasins, deserve to be put in the full light; but when all these products are already spread out in special galleries, should the great hall be cluttered? Obviously not. This observation, which everyone will recognise as correct, is particularly directed at Mr. Minton's products, which are spread everywhere and which have invaded a large space in the part of the Avenue du Parc which faces the Imperial Pavilion.
The ebony and ivory furniture of Messrs. Alessandri père et fils, placed in the centre; the beautiful clock of M. Henri Lepaute which has been installed at the end near the Central Garden, and the magnificent statue of M. Gustave Crauk, the Victory crowning the French flag, placed at the very entrance of the vestibule, console us a little, however, for the disappointment which the rest has caused us.
At the end of the vestibule, opposite each other, at each entrance to the Retrospective Museum, two colossal statues have been placed, that of Marshal Serrurier and that of the poet Jasmin.
The first, thanks to the costume, the drapery and the accessories, is not lacking in a certain grandeur, and the figure of the soldier has a calm majesty that does credit to the artist.
As for the second, it is of the most unfortunate realism. The poet is represented smiling, with his mouth half open, as if he were articulating a graceful hemist, his right arm in the air, and his feet shod with those open pumps which are still fashionable in the Midi. As a whole, all this may be true, exact and even resembling, but on no side does art make itself felt in this work, and this statue of a poet, it must be said, essentially lacks poetry.
May Jasmin's compatriots and many friends feel differently than we do.
The mass of walkers seemed to us, on all points, to be of our opinion, for if they do not cross the gallery straight on, if they stop there, it is because they are attracted by the wide and sumptuous divans, which from distance to distance have been placed at their disposal; and do not believe that from there they look and cast their eyes on the shop windows of the Louvre, of the Compagnie Lyonnaise or on the splendid furniture of Lemoine or Roudillon? No, she rests, closes her eyes and falls asleep.
Let us conclude; the great vestibule, which should be the most important part of the Exhibition as it is the largest part of the Palais, has been treated by the Commission with an unfortunate lack of style; if it wished to spare the visitors any surprises and not dazzle them from the first steps, it has succeeded perfectly; so this magnificent vestibule is considered by all only as a place of passage or rest
©L'Exposition Universelle de 1867 Illustrée