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Thirty-metre gallery - Expo Paris 1889

Thirty-metre gallery at the Exhibition Expo Paris 1889

It is already known throughout the world that this gallery, which connects the dome of the Palais des Expositions diverses to the Palais des Machines, is one of the most successful parts of the Champ de Mars.

It is the general hall of the Industrial Exhibitions, for it not only gives access to the Machine Gallery but also to all the various exhibitions, through fourteen doors, each more monumental than the last.

These doors alone constitute a very interesting exhibition, which is why we will only mention them today, each of them deserving a special drawing.

A very wise measure has left to the exhibitors of each Class, the initiative to distribute, build and decorate according to their taste and generosity, the entrance of the gallery in which they exhibit their products, and the competition has produced wonderful results here.

In principle, these doors are almost all formed of three bays, only one of which gives access to the gallery, while the other two are merely display windows. But what a variety of materials and arrangements!

It is even extraordinary that the considerable part left to the particular effort and individual tendencies of each industry, did not produce a disparate result, something clashing and shocking by the neighbouring dissimilarities, whereas, on the contrary, everything is melted into a very harmonious whole which would make one believe in a preliminary, thorough study of the result that the juxtaposition of the most diverse ornaments and styles was to produce.

This must be due to the large proportions of the gallery onto which all the façades open. This gallery, whose dimensions are somewhat overshadowed by the proximity of the gigantic Palais des Machines, is indeed of very successful proportions, wide enough to have given each door the necessary perspective, long enough to have separated the various façades sufficiently, so that the impression of this one would not detract from the impression of that one; high enough, finally, to have given these porticoes a monumental aspect, which alone justified the lack of symmetry and regularity in the details.

The gallery is connected to the Palais des Machines by a vestibule covered by a dome. From the vestibule, two large staircases with wide landings lead to the gallery on the first floor of the Palais des Machines. This makes a large square room which seems to depend more on the thirty-metre gallery than on the Palais des Machines, and which has a nice overall colouring. The dome, although it does not have the proportions of its colleague, which surmounts the other end of the gallery, is nonetheless very remarkable: its ornamentation, due entirely to coloured glass, is even, it must be admitted, of a better taste, more delicate and more discreet than that of the central dome.

Under this dome is placed a much more monumental fountain than that of M. de Saint-Vidal, which appears so crushed between the four pillars of the Eiffel Tower that it is hard to believe that it is 9 metres high, as officially attributed.

It is true that this fountain is by Bartholdi, who with the lion of Belfort and the Liberty of New York, has taken up the speciality of the colossal.

From this group, whose large horses call for attention, if we go up towards the central Dome we come across the following installations occupying the middle of the thirty-metre gallery:
The beginning is not happy. It is a Saint Michael slaying the dragon, which is far from being decorative. Imagine a spindle-shaped statue with a pedestal narrower than the subject itself: the dragon lies gently at the feet of St Michael, who with admirable composure thrusts a spear into its forehead and holds it geometrically perpendicular; the archangel's eyes do not betray the least emotion he must be feeling at his first start in his career as a dragon-slayer.

A Greek portico follows: it is an exhibition of marble from Marseille, without much artistic character, despite the marble statue of various colours that has been renewed from the Greeks or Romans.

Then, here is a curious installation made by the big boiler factories. It is an annex of the gallery which opens just to the left: immense iron and copper pipes arranged in the most varied ways, form a sort of pavilion crowned by copper domes, domes of steam engines. The two main entrances to this pavilion are particularly noteworthy. One consists of three pieces of copper: two enormous cylinders that support a dome three metres in diameter. The other is even simpler; it is made of a single sheet of copper, one centimetre thick, which, when developed, would represent a surface area of 35 to 40 square metres.

In the centre of the pavilion, strands of solder have been nailed to an inverted dome in the shape of a basin, as if they were coming out of the ingot mould, it looks like an overflowing sheet of silver, the effect is extremely curious.

A black and gold kiosk, situated opposite the hunting gallery, contains furs, pearls and mother-of-pearl and other products of hunting and fishing. This pavilion is nothing special, nor is the installation that follows it and belongs to the Erard house.

It is followed by a high altar, of very classical form and without originality: it reproduces the altar made for the cathedral of Rouen by M. Sauvageol. It is far from being equal to the one we will find a little further on.

The Cavaillé-Cohl organ, which we find after the altar, is remarkable only for its rich decoration and the quality of its sounds.

Behind the organ, and probably in order to hide the non-decorative parts, a grotto of Diana has been placed, the need for which was not at all felt in this marvellous gallery. I am very sorry for Mr. Sédille, who fortunately has proved himself elsewhere as an architect, but it is truly ugly.

The head of the interior installations department is not the only culprit; for this thing is the product of the union of an architect, Mr. Paul Sédille, already named; a painter, Mr. J. Blanc; a mosaicist, Mr. Guilbert-Martin, not to mention a cement worker whose name escapes me. It is regrettable that three men of taste and a cement worker have joined forces to produce this ugly thing, at the bottom of which a Diana stands out, for some reason, on the other side of the sea to make even F. B. Guimet, who invented them, shout.

Here is the superb exhibition of Thiebault bronzes, separated from the public by a black wooden ramp which is adorned at the four corners by Marmosets copied at Versailles, as are the caryatids in the entrance. There are some remarkable pieces here, which must be mentioned because they contribute more to the decoration of the gallery than they do to Mr. Thiebault's exhibition.

Such are the two delightful statuettes by Coutan, the Song and Dance, the statue of Etienne Marcel, a reproduction of the one in the Hôtel de Ville, and above all an admirable monument to the Fountain.

The work of the sculptor Dumilatre, whose architect was Mr. Franz Jourdain, this group represents Glory crowning the bust of the fabulist. It is a pleasure to see in this bust that the sculptor, better inspired than his predecessors, has not given Jean de la Fontaine the good-natured physiognomy that is believed to be an inseparable prerogative of bonhomie. The lightning of genius criss-crosses the lines of this face of intelligent frankness. Brave people, La Fontaine was not only a good man. He was and still is the greatest of French poets, because he is the truest.
La Fontaine's characters, his good friends the animals, are grouped around the bust: a majestic lion looks at him and the fox seems to be paying the master a well-turned compliment. A marble staircase with a few steps raises this ensemble and, on one of the steps, the two pigeons, who loved each other with tender love, are cooing and pecking under the benevolent eye of the great fabulist.

The octagonal window of Lyon that we find next offers nothing remarkable as regards its exterior, except for some rather beautiful caryatids. The woodwork is black and gold. In this window are installed the "honorary" exhibitions of the Lyon silk industry.

Not much to say either about the kiosk under which remarkable Limoges porcelain has been assembled. This installation, like the one before it and the one that follows, is only an exhibition outside the gallery. However, the latter is enclosed in a kiosk that is rather curious in its construction.

The altar exhibited by Poussielgue-Rusand, which follows it, deserves more than a simple mention. It is a
a magnificent altar in gilded copper destined for Saint-Ouen, in Rouen. It has no specific style, although its central part, the tabernacle and the 5-metre high spire above it, are in the pure Gothic style.

To the left and right, two elegant arches are divided by Gothic ogives, which hang over magnificent high reliefs recalling the life of Saint Ouen. It is a very beautiful piece of religious goldsmithery, which loses a little if it is not seen in its natural setting, but which, in place and surrounded by similar architecture, must have a truly great air.

After that there is nothing left but the door which separates the gallery from the central dome and which was built by the national mosaic factory; but this door is of extreme elegance, which allows its architect, M. Paul Sédille, to take a brilliant revenge for the part he may have had in the rocaille of earlier.

It is an arch crowned with Arabic crenellations and supported by two uprights covered with mosaic panels made after Mr. Luc Olivier Merson.

These panels represent Tapestry and Ceramics, each symbolised by a young woman.

One does not understand, at first sight, what reason Mr. Luc Olivier Merson had for choosing two types of woman of absolute vulgarity. Contrary to the ordinary traditions of allegory, which has pretensions to majesty.
On reflection, it seems that the painter wanted to make us feel how humble the artisans of decorative works usually are. He has not depicted artists, but women of the people, albeit draped in the antique style, or more or less. If they do not arouse the idea of genius, they evoke the labour and accomplishment of daily tasks.

In any case, these two compositions are marvellously understood from the point of view of what mosaics can do, and if one were to step back a little, it would be difficult to imagine that one is not in the presence of a painting executed with the most meticulous art, while one is looking at thousands of small cubes of stone and enamel.

The Ceramic, a blonde woman draped in a yellow cloth, holds a pottery in her hand, while above her swallows fly away.

The Tapestry is dressed in green. She is holding a wool spindle and a reel. The same swallows are to be found in this second panel, and the two women, although different, have a family resemblance that would lead one to believe that two sister models served the painter.

These figures, with their low foreheads and prominent cheekbones, are far from being devoid of charm.

The door frame, also in mosaic, as well as the two motifs that serve as the base of the panels, have been executed with great richness of tone and they blend in very nicely with the gilded metal curtains that are raised on either side of the bay by golden tiebacks.

For those arriving by the central Dome, this door is a worthy entrance to the thirty-metre gallery which is, we repeat, one of the wonders of the Exhibition.

©Livre d'Or de l'Exposition - Henri Anry.