World Fair of Paris 1889

Centenary of the French Revolution

May 6, 1889 - October 31, 1889

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Portugal at the Exhibition Expo Paris 1889

Architect(s) : Achille Hermant

Portugal has one of the prettiest palaces at the Exhibition. Unfortunately, to find it, you have to be as persistent as you are careful to hide it.

It is however in a good position, since it is raised along the Seine. But on this side its facade is purely decorative, it is inaccessible, the palace, being built on stilts, dips the pedestals of its pilasters and the base of its walls in the impure wave.

Its entrance is on the bank, from the side; it is reached by a sort of small steep slope, a miller's ladder which serves the pontoon of the omnibus boats. Another entrance connects the Palais du Portugal to the Palais de l'Alimentation, which adjoins it, and a third leads to a cul-de-sac formed by one of the Agriculture galleries and the Palais de l'Alimentation already mentioned.

It is a great pity to have thus hidden this architectural jewel, all white, and all pretty, which profiles on the Seine its graceful facades with its balconies and its corner pepper-pots, but the place was missing!

The style is not all that defined. Gela goes from the Renaissance to our Louis XV style; in any case, it is the best style, since it is the one that pleases everyone. The balconies are decorated with marmosets in the style of those in Versailles.

At both ends of the façade on the Seine rises a very graceful belvedere. There are no doors overlooking the river, and for good reason, but the windows are of a beautiful style.

The side facade on the riverbank is only flawed by the rather small staircase. However, the three large windows on this side redeem this defect by the great character they give to the entrance.

The interior of the Palace is of a particularly bizarre construction; are there two, three or four floors? It is impossible to say. What is certain is that one would look in vain for a ground floor.

The staircase that serves the floors opens onto the cul-de-sac we mentioned, and it is to be assumed that this is how the architect intended to introduce visitors to his palace.

You arrive in the middle of this staircase. Go down it, you are in a basement; go up it, you are on the first floor. You can see that there is no ground floor. The whole middle of the palace is open on the 4th and 2nd floors, to allow the open sky to light up the basement, which is not a basement because on the Seine side there are windows in the front. I can assure you that it is architecturally very bizarre. The side room on the first floor to the left forms a four-sided gallery through the middle of which the basement is lit.

This makes a total of sixteen rooms and a rather considerable surface area. But of these sixteen rooms, Portugal itself occupies only five. The other eleven are devoted to its colonies. Portugal is, in fact, in the same situation as Holland, i.e. the proportion between the importance of the metropolis and that of the colonies is absolutely disproportionate. And the Portuguese colonies are only a shadow of their former selves, despite the extent of the African territories, in Guinea, Congo and Mozambique. There was a much more obvious disproportion in the past, when the Lusitanian supremacy extended over Brazil, that immense empire which could contain and support, doubled or tripled, the entire population of our old Europe.

The development of these colonies is due to the adventurous character of this small people, and we can take our share of pride in their great enterprises. It was a cadet of France who, with the good swords of a few companions and his own as his only fortune and help, once came to conquer the kingdom from the Moors of Spain at the point of the rapier, which his successors kept intact. Even today, with the Bragances, it is a house of French origin that reigns over Portugal, a country that does not make much of a name for itself in diplomatic conferences, but which is moving well along a path of moral and material progress.

If industry is still in its infancy, it is reaching the first stage of perfect production. See for proof the superb collection of earthenware, which is spread throughout the Portuguese Palace, in which it forms both the most considerable exhibition and an important part of the decoration. Ceramics is certainly one of the most characteristic arts for judging the industrial value of a country. The development of modern processes substituted for the art of the old master ceramists is the consequence of a whole thrust of investigations, of research, of a whole set of results previously acquired in many varied industries.

Well, these earthenware pieces in the style of the best productions of our illustrious Bernard Palissy, come from a factory set up a few years ago, only four or five.

And they are perfect, irreproachable. The plates, the dishes with reptile or fruit decorations in relief, the vases along which vegetation meanders or lizards climb, all have a real stamp of early fantasy, combined with a meticulous study of nature; the whole thing is implemented and completed by the most sophisticated means.

The decoration of the salons, which was almost entirely done with guineas, that is to say, with the brightly coloured cotton cloths made for negroes, has been enhanced by the use of earthenware. There are trophies or crests made up of gigantic animals, most often crustaceans.

They are strikingly real.

In fact, after these ceramics, the exhibition proper of Portugal hardly includes anything but wines.

But what a rich array of wines! For us, everything is Porto, or Oporto, as the Portuguese say in their ignorance of the French language. But they know that they have several hundred varieties of wine, each more exquisite than the next. These wines occupy the basement and the first floor on the left. The middle of the basement, three of the five rooms, is the part that Portugal has reserved for itself.

This installation of the wines has been done with great simplicity and picturesqueness, along the columns that support the ceilings, as well as along the display cabinets, the festoons of a vine wind up, so nicely imitated that it would reconcile with artificial flowers. But it is especially on the left that this exhibition becomes charming.

In the middle of the basement stands a trophy, a sort of kiosk 4 or 5 metres high, finished with a roof covered with glazed tiles. One side of the hall is occupied by a bar, which is by far the most attractive of the entire exhibition. It is a lean-to construction, made of black wood and earthenware panels, with a canopy roof also made of earthenware tiles, ranging from green to brown, in a pleasant tone. Inside, they serve real port and Madeira, guaranteed to be original. The price is high enough to leave you after that with doubts about the provenance of any Madeira you may drink in the future. But it comes with a nice smile from the waitress, and that makes up for the high price.

On the first floor, still on the left, the gallery we mentioned is covered with a vine over its entire surface. From this vine hangs grapes, so natural that one would eat them.
The other rooms in Portugal are occupied by agricultural and mineral products.

Industry is represented only by the ceramics we have mentioned and by the brightly coloured fabrics, carpets, coats, belts, blankets, etc., which Ton has arranged everywhere in a very decorative manner.

Madeira occupies half of a living room set up with wickerwork, used to support the barrels and bottles of the famous wine.

I remember that one day, in Cette, I was passing a sort of cellar, from which came the most appalling smell of sour wine and rotten grapes.

A Madeira factory, they answered my questions or rather the very significant grimaces of my olfactory apparatus. And I had a great deal of trouble getting my good Cettois to agree that real Madeira was not the product they were making chemically, by subjecting picpoul to I don't know what torture. Let them come to the Palace of Portugal and they will be convinced that there is real Madeira, authentic Madeira, made by the good Lord alone without the collaboration of the pestilential enclosures. Two mannequins in Funchalese costume even show us the natives who harvest grapes in Madeira, which proves that not only does Madeira exist, but that it is inhabited.

The other Portuguese colonies have sent the most varied productions, and one can go from Congolese fetishes to fine Chinese sparteries, passing through Mozambique and the Portuguese Indies, a series of civilisations, or savageries, which in itself constitutes a curious course of ethnography.

There are Macao weapons, which show all the ferocity of Chinese armoury, beside screens and woven bamboo objects which denote all the manual skill of the yellow workers. The native fabrics are - at least some of them - of great beauty.

Alongside these products of a civilisation so advanced that it has reverted to quasi-barbarism, here is barbarism trying its hand at civilisation. In the window of the Congo, an idol stands, very dignified, modelled in clay, obviously after a white man; the facial angle, the nose, the lips have nothing Congolese about them.

To adorn their divinity, the Congolese have decorated it with nails. Ah! but not decorative nails, no: good big massive nails, well twisted, well rusted, and, supreme coquetry, they have set a piece of square mirror in the middle of his stomach. This does not prevent this god from looking great.

Here is a Goa hut, made entirely of bamboo. Here are boats dug by fire. Really, one would wonder what the Portuguese can get out of these lost countries, where the sun marries with the earth to produce stones, if one did not see superb elephant tusks and gold ingots, coming from the baring of river flakes.

The St. Thomas Islands, the Cape Verde Islands, a whole Portuguese empire surrounded by water, have sent wood; there are some remarkable ones, as are, incidentally, the products of the Portuguese forests.

Which makes me think that I forgot to mention a very curious installation showing the woods, cork, wicker, etc., applied to wine-growing, the art of the wine-press, the cellar and the cellar. It is very interesting.

After this quick visit, we can say goodbye to the beautiful Portuguese Palace. It was one of the privileged ones of the Exhibition; in fact the first flood of the Seine could have swept it away, or at least seriously damaged it; and the Seine remained wise.
This was fortunate, because underneath its apparent solidity, this construction is extremely light; the walls, which one would swear are made of stone, are simply made of wood covered with white painted canvas; you have to touch it to believe it.

©Livre d'Or de l'Exposition - Paul Le Jeinisel.