Following the Grand Palais des Fêtes, the Palais des Artistes Contemporains or the Palais de l'Art Vivant displayed its modest but charming façade.
It was dazzlingly white and marked by the simplicity of its architectural lines. Thin columns formed a peristyle entrance of rare elegance.
It was designed by the Exhibition's architectural department.
The Comité des Beaux-Arts had initially decided that, in celebrating the theme of water in painting and sculpture, it would stick to its evocation by the great masters of the past. It seemed that limiting ourselves to a retrospective exhibition would be more likely to interest the general public, which since 1930 has shown a renewed interest in the works of the primitives and renaissants. On the other hand, the Committee thus avoided solving the dilemma that necessarily arises for all organisers of modern art exhibitions: either they boldly welcome the innovators and expose themselves, as was the case in Brussels in 1935, to misunderstanding by the public and to movements of opinion which, translated into the press, ultimately resolve themselves into counter-propaganda, - or they claim to distinguish between aesthetics and to impose their laws on the artists, and therefore necessarily fall into arbitrariness. It was also thought that modern artists, whose collaboration was widely required in all areas of the Exhibition, would have ample opportunity to show their work outside the Palais des Beaux-Arts. Finally, it was feared that by bringing the ancient and modern sections together in a common palace, they would harm each other.
The Exhibition organisers put the Fine Arts section at ease by offering to build a second palace for living artists. On the other hand, it was realised that, however generous the general management was towards artists, it was not possible to give all those who were worthy of it the opportunity to show their talent within the Exposition itself. Finally, it was considered that many of today's artists had contributed, especially in the field of landscape, such new and original interpretations of the theme of water, that it would have been unfair, and even harmful, not to show their works in an exhibition devoted to water.
This is why it was decided to organise a contemporary section. It remained to find ways of avoiding the pitfalls that so many predecessors had encountered. With regard to foreign sections, the solution was easily found. Eminent personalities, invested with the confidence of their Government and national artists, were entrusted with the organisation of their particular section, sometimes with the help of a sub-commission. The system proved to be excellent. The organisers, piqued by emulation, feeling their responsibility, and especially anxious to put their national art in a position to withstand perilous comparisons as brilliantly as possible, obtained competitions to which we could not have aspired and offered us ensembles of a rare quality. We will come back to this in a moment.
As far as the Belgian section is concerned, it was decided first of all to avoid the formalities of the admission jury. The Commission des Beaux-Arts took full responsibility for the exhibition, not just in name, but in fact. It drew up an invitation list, but took care to be broadly eclectic and welcoming so that all schools, all trends, all artistic expressions could send their most representative artists.
The result was exceptionally good. In a palace situated at the threshold of the Rose Garden, which, although it did not offer the space of the large palace of the retrospective sections, nevertheless had a beautiful and harmonious appearance, a number of visitors came and went and testified, by their praise, to the interest they had found in this overview of living art, represented by an abundant Belgian section and by eleven foreign sections.
Among the latter, the most brilliant, the most attractive and the best composed was undoubtedly the French section. It was the work, for the most part, of Mr. R. Burnand, delegate of the French Administration of Fine Arts. It is fair to point out, however, that our compatriot Robert Massart, a statuary in Paris, was also, through his kindness and devotion, one of the good artisans of the success of this section. Forty painters and four sculptors represented French art. In contrast to so many salons less favoured than ours, not only were the most beautiful names in French painting on the walls, but the works representing them were of high quality and... of size, which made a change from the usual visiting cards.
We cannot name them all. Suffice it to say that Balande, Bonnard, Braque, Brianchon, Chagall, Dunoyer de Segonzac, Eberl, Friesz, Kisling, Marquet, Matisse, Utrillo, Van Don-gen, Venet, Vlaminck, Warocquier, and, among the sculptors, Despiau and Poisson, showed works of the highest quality, so that those who did not have the chance to visit this exhibition may have some idea of the brilliance of a school led by such masters.
The Dutch section was also very remarkable. It was the work of Dr. Martin, director of the Mauritshuis, and Mr. Willy Sluiter, commissioner of the Dutch Government, who showed their skill, experience and friendliness. They were rewarded for their efforts by the good appearance of their section, which included twenty-one painters and three sculptors, and the good opinion of modern Dutch art.
The Swedish section was also highly commendable. Our visitors had the opportunity to appreciate a school which is generally too little known to us. The same must be said of Latvia and Denmark, whose flourishing arts attest to their vitality and high culture. Finally, Switzerland and Germany, one with twelve paintings, the other with seven painters and two sculptors, completed in an interesting way this panorama of European art, of which a Spaniard, a Luxembourger and a Russian further broadened the scope.
As for the Belgian section, it lived up to our past and present reputation. Sixty-one painters and nine sculptors presented all the aspects and tendencies of today's art in the best possible way. The artists had made a special effort in its favour, and the people of Liège in particular, including Crommelynck, Dupagne, Finette Dupont, Fabry, Hallet, Hock, Jamar, Mambourg, Martin, Mataive, Scauflaire and the sculptors Dupont, Massart and Salle, were anxious to take advantage of the exceptional opportunity given them to prove in the most brilliant way that their contribution to the national school is of the highest quality.
© General Report - International Water Technology Exhibition - Liège 1939