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Quai d'Orsay Gate - Expo Paris 1889

Quai d'Orsay Gate at the Exhibition Expo Paris 1889

It has been said over and over again that the Exhibition was the triumph of iron; it would perhaps be more accurate to say that it was the triumph of the pylon.

Do you like pylons? They were everywhere. Every foreign pavilion had at least two pylons. The Eiffel Tower itself is only a pylon of gigantic dimensions, and it is by passing between two pylons that one enters the Exhibition, through the Quai d'Orsay gate.

In the background, the pylon has been put into the current traffic for a year by the architect-engineers and the engineer-architects, simply to impress the layman. Like the military, they use pylons in their love talks, to make themselves look good in the eyes of nannies.

A pylon is in architecture a door, in geodesy it is something pointed. For the architects of 1889, a pylon is something pointed next to a door. And this is how the French language is enriched.

Moreover, we must declare ourselves happy that this entrance to the Quai d'Orsay has a pylon. These two small pavilions, which on both sides of a gate serve as posts, doors and wickets, would be pitifully sad if they were not topped by a slightly cheerful pylon. When one thinks of them, they awaken the idea of the entrance to Père-Lachaise rather than that of the entrance to the Exhibition.

So the entrance is essentially composed of two guardhouses, through which one will enter the interior of the Exhibition, the gate being reserved for the exit.

These guardhouses are surmounted by columns, first of all square, about 10 metres high; or to put it more accurately, they consist of square columns 15 metres high, into the base of which the entrance would have been cut.

On each side, these bases are flanked by small appendages, which have no other purpose than to carry Venetian masts with flags at their outer corners. These appendages are pierced with narrow windows.

Above the base, a prow emerges from the bottom of each column shaft, on which a symbolic figure stands.

Below the capitals, shields in relief are found on each side of the column. All in all, this is quite severe. But all of a sudden, above the capital, the style changes abruptly, and we find ourselves in the middle of an oriental fantasy, and even an extremely oriental one; there is a debauchery of chimeras, horns, and superimposed capitals. The whole thing ends in a point like an Annamite pagoda.

This bizarre appearance can, moreover, be justified by the fact that the Exhibition at the Esplanade des Invalides being reserved for the colonies, it was intended to give a foretaste of the architectural bigarities of the countries placed under our protectorate or our dependence...

The general criticism that can be made of this gate is that it lacks a monumental appearance and rigidity of line, despite the severity of its base. This is due to the profusion of flags, banners and pennants with which it has been decorated. These floating fabrics break all order and symmetry. It is true that it is to the benefit of the colour. Perhaps nothing is lost?

©Livre d'Or de l'Exposition - Paul Lejenisel.