The municipal life of Paris, like that of all the great cities of the world, is of great interest from many points of view; it is a lesson in organisation and a modern spectacle to which no one remains indifferent.
But in addition to these organisms which contribute to make it one of the most brilliant cities in the universe, Paris possesses the privilege of an endearing past. As a resonant echo of modern ideas and an ardent intellectual centre, its name is at the origin of the reforms of the last two centuries. In turn, its history is sumptuous, opulent, picturesque and tragic.
It is this double and endearing aspect of its life that the organisers of the Palais de la Ville de Paris have endeavoured to highlight in all the exhibitions; notwithstanding the abundance of attractive elements in the World's Fair, the Palais de Paris arouses attention, despite a physiognomy that is somewhat arid at first sight, but which is illuminated by the note of art and the picturesque and striking document.
The City of Paris participated brilliantly in the international and universal exhibitions of Brussels and Liège; never was its collaboration in our World's Fair so extensive, so important as in Ghent.
This flattering competition was due in large part to the sympathies that arose during visits to Paris and Ghent by the municipal councillors of the two cities.
On 5 July 1912, in accordance with its feelings and in response to the invitation of the French Committee for Foreign Exhibitions, the Paris City Council decided to participate in the Universal and International Exhibition in Ghent.
For its part, the Prefecture of the Seine, represented by the kindly M. Delauney, wanted to take part in the exhibition. Delauney, wanted to match the cordial gesture of the Paris City Council; from their double collaboration was born the superb exhibition of the City of Paris and the Department of the Seine.
The Executive Committee of the Ghent Exhibition wanted this participation to occupy a place worthy of the importance it promised to assume; it placed at the disposal of the City of Paris the necessary space in the large halls built especially for the French Section and agreed that the unity of their architecture should undergo a more decorative and ornamental transformation.
It was to M. Roger Bouvard, the eminent Parisian architect, director of the architectural, promenades and plantation services and of the Paris road system, general commissioner of municipal festivals and exhibitions, that the Parisian authorities called upon for the creation of this façade and the general layout of the building.
Mr. Roger Bouvard had previously given brilliant proof of his talent as an exhibition architect. It was he who, at the Universal Exhibitions of Liège and Brussels, was the happy author of the Palais de la Ville de Paris, and one remembers their supreme elegance and delicate charm, no less than their beautiful layout.
In Ghent, a large stone hall, with a winter garden decorated with plants, statues, fountains, and decorative groups, gave access to a collection of original and attractive items, arranged in a dozen rooms.
With a truly delicate attention, the Parisian authorities had wanted one of the main attractions of their exhibition to bear witness once again to the brilliance of Flemish art and the reputation of its most glorious representatives.
The highlight of this splendid participation was, in fact, this marvellous exhibition organised by the Fine Arts and Museums Department and to which Mr Georges Cain, the eminent curator of the Carnavalet Museum, had devoted his devoted care and his knowledge of the past.
In order to create a retrospective exhibition of Old Paris, Mr. Georges Cain had transported to Ghent the parquet floors, woodwork, furniture, paintings and curios of three salons from the past. All these objects, brought together with the conscience of a historian and the taste of an artist, made up a carved oak salon in the transitional Louis XIV style, a Louis XV salon with painted, gilded woodwork and decorated with cartouches in monochrome and a Louis XVI salon with painted woodwork, glass frames and gilded door tops.
In this absolutely authentic setting, the skilful organiser installed all sorts of delightful things obtained from friendly collectors. There were two Louis XV and Regency chests of drawers, a Louis XVI secretary and chest of drawers, Louis XVI and Regency armchairs, tapestry panels from the Gobelins, a chest of drawers that belonged to the unfortunate Princess of Lamballe, soup tureens, vegetable dishes, goblets, chased silver flies, stylish clocks, candelabras, etc.
A few collections lent by Madame Rigaud completed the look of these pieces. There were old engravings, boxes and snuffboxes, cases and kits from the 18th century, Louis XIV, Louis XV and Louis XVI fans, and Flemish lace.
In the Louis XIV salon, Mr. Cain had the happy and courteous inspiration to include only paintings by the great Flemish masters. Rubens was represented by three works: an Allegory, the Triumph of the Eucharist over Heresy and the Triumph of the Eucharist over Ignorance; by Brouwer, a Cabaret Interior; by Teniers, a Temptation of Saint Anthony, and three large compositions: Moncada is elected by the nobles and the Church to protect the Queen against Bernardo Cabrera's rebel troops - Moncada drives out the rebels - Moncada receives the keys of the city from Bernardo Cabrera; two portraits by Van Dyck, two still lifes by Fyt, a Study of a Man and a Laughing Child's Head by Frans Hals, a Guitar Player by Molenaer.
The French school of painting of the 18th century was admirably suited to characterise this period; it was represented by Boucher (bust of a young girl), by Drouais (portrait), by a study of a young girl by Greuze, four decorative panels by Leriche and two landscapes by Hubert Robert.
Sculptures, drawings and engravings completed the decoration of these salons, in particular a Mercury, a bronze cast in the 17th century, attributed to Jean de Bologne, two statuettes of women by Falconnet with chiselled ornaments by Gouttière and the bronze bust of the painter Vernet by Houdon.
These rooms were much admired by the visitors; their fine artistic appearance, the harmony of the whole and the grace and beauty of the details were well suited to hold the attention.
The other rooms of the pavilion of the City of Paris were devoted to documentation; there was a collection of medals of the city of Paris, as well as the official relations of the festivities organised by the Municipality on the occasion of the visit of foreign sovereigns or eminent men.
The department of the library and historical works exhibited a number of interesting documents, as did the archives of the City of Paris and the Department of the Seine; this repository includes documents dating from 1112 to 1871, which were reproduced in photographs for display in the city palace.
We shall not mention the countless departments of the City or the Department which, with documents of all kinds, contributed to completing this municipal and departmental exhibition. However, let us recall those which were presented under a picturesque aspect, such as that of the architecture, the promenades, the plantations, the road system and the map of Paris. This exhibition was quite remarkable.
Admirable colour photographs showed the Champ de Mars, the Parc et Roseraie de Bagatelle, the Parc Monceau, the Buttes Chaumont and so many others that it would be useless to enumerate them.
Further on, amusing dioramas showed visitors new parts of Paris, either planned or already completed. The military zone of the fortifications, the Old Montmartre and the future park to be created there, the former and current Champ de Mars, the current Porte Maillot and the project for a monumental entrance to be created there, etc., were all remarkable.
No less captivating was the participation of the traffic and transport departments. It included views of the traffic in the Places St-Michel, de l'Etoile, and de l'Opéra and a diorama which, executed by M. E. Ferrand, a statuary, and M. Garat, a painter, gave, in a very artistic way, a glimpse of the small trades in the street, authorised or tolerated by the Préfecture de police. On the Place de la Concorde, were gathered together, in the most amusing of tohus-bohus, merchants of the four seasons, remoaners, dog-shearers, camelots, hercules, photographers in the open air, chestnut merchants, etc.
Finally, let us mention the magnificent modern dining room exhibited by the Ecole Boulle and the very complete and interesting exhibition of the Direction des recherches du service de l'identité judiciaire. The daily press, which finds its main source of inspiration in news items, has long since familiarized the public with its procedures for finding the thief or murderer, thanks to the fingerprints and other impressions they leave on the scene and which are identified thanks to a very complete system of cards. Most of the devices that help the police in their search were exhibited and have conquered most of the cities of the world from Paris.
©Livre d'Or de l'Exposition Universelle & Internationale de Gand 1913