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Liberal Arts - Expo Paris 1889

Liberal Arts at the Exhibition Expo Paris 1889
Architect(s) : Formigé

The Exhibition known as the History of Work occupies, in the general plan of the Champ de Mars Exhibition, the arm which is the counterpart of the Fine Arts pavilion, that is to say, the part which protrudes from the gardens, to the right of the central pavilion. The attached perspective, with its indications corresponding to our description, will facilitate the visit to foreigners.

Let us first state the purpose of this Exhibition, which, from the point of view of general ideas, is perhaps the one which will offer the most interest to the visitor, provided he looks closely. The aim is to show the products of human labour from the earliest times to the present day; to arrange them in such a way as to show the progress made and the transformations undergone, in their chronological order; and at the same time to introduce the public to the processes of manual and mechanical labour which, through the centuries, have led to the modern industrial tools of the Arts and Crafts. It is easy to understand that it is impossible to show the public the objects themselves, some of which are unique. - Let us take as an example Stephenson's first steam engine, which we would like to contrast with the latest one from the Cail or Le Creuzot workshops, or Galileo's first telescope, which we should be able to compare with the latest telescope from the observatory in Nice.

One is in the South Kensington Museum in London, the other belongs to Venice; and it is conceivable that both are regarded as national monuments which are preserved with jealous care. - The chronological series has therefore been established mostly by means of representations of the models, facsimiles of objects, old engravings, drawings and photographs, and in some of these sections the decorative aspect is less striking than elsewhere. However, if we do not have the first traction engine, we at least have the second one, lent by the English, and next to the luxurious saloon cars of the rich and powerful of the day, we will see in the transport section the first saloon car made for the Duke of Wellington. It will also be seen that in the Anthropology, Theatre History, Arts and Crafts, and Liberal Arts sections, the décor is striking and the plasticity adds to the interest of the teaching that emerges. This will compensate for some of the other sections where there has been perhaps a little too much reliance on the attention of an audience that can only be distracted in the midst of such a vast exhibition.

This exhibition of Labour History, as a whole, consists of five sections:
I. - Anthropological and Ethnographical Sciences. - The Liberal Arts.
III. - Arts and Crafts.
IV. - Your means of transport.
V. - The military arts.

Jules Simon, both politician and philosopher, was president of the Higher Commission. Admiral Jurien de la Gravière, a member of the Académie française and a naval historian at all times, is vice-chairman, together with M. de Quatrefages, a scholar whose name is European. Mr. Paul Sédille is the special architect of this part of the Exhibition. We cannot mention here the names of each of the members who make up the commissions of these five sections, but it goes without saying that those who conceived the programme entrusted its realisation to the most illustrious specialists and the most practical men. The first four sections alone are installed in the Palais des Arts Libéraux; the fifth, the military arts, detached from the whole, occupies a special place on the Esplanade des Invalides.

With the help of the plan, we will indicate the place occupied by each section and characterise its nature and appearance. We will enter through the door of the Liberal Arts dome, in the very centre of the façade overlooking the gardens. The overall layout is very particular; the architect imagined enclosing a monument within a monument; the exhibition of the four sections forms a long parallelogram with four courtyards surrounded by galleries in open porticoes butted at the corners by pavilions, the whole sheltered at a considerable height by the Palace itself with its central dome forming a counterpart to that of the Palais des Beaux-Arts. In the centre of the parallelogram, under the vault of the dome itself, there is a circular portico connected to the other cloisters by staircases that allow access to the upper terraces and galleries. Entering through the middle door A, the visitor enters under the dome which is the very centre of section II, the Liberal Arts. This circular portico is reserved for the Theatre and its history; In another exhibition annexed to this one (which is made by the State), the Librarian of the Opera completes the lesson and shows us the sets, their mode of execution, the processes used to make them, the models of the decorator painters, their tools, their workshop, the sketches of the masters of the genre kept in special museums or borrowed from private collections, with the complicated machinery of today, the much simpler machinery of the past, and the posters, programmes, costumes, portraits of the virtuosos, the architecture of the theatre, in a word the whole historical part and especially the successive transformations which complete the study of what was by comparing what is.

If, leaving this central pavilion on the right and going under the stairs, we visit the ground floor galleries surrounding the first courtyard, we have on our left: The Work of Painting, represented by all the modes of expression used by the painter in all times; the material first, and an example of the result of his work, i.e. one or more executed works: Fresco, Wax, Encaustic, Tempera, Oil, Watercolour, Pastel, etc. , etc.

From there, we move on to the Work of Sculpture, that is to say the enumeration of all the materials used by the sculptor, from ancient times to the present day; Wood, Marble, Stone, Bronze, Wax, Ivory, Hard Materials, etc., with the various states and transitions of each of these materials, and beautiful examples from most countries and periods by great artists. Nearby, a pavilion has been devoted to the history of the print and book in Japan, and this subdivision will be much appreciated by amateurs. If one wishes to follow the series of liberal arts through engraving, music, manuscripts, the history of coins, coinage and medals, one must go up to the upper part; but it is better to remain on the ground floor and continue. The courtyard around which the various exhibitions take place is devoted to the History of the Work of Music, that is to say to the making of instruments, to their reconstruction, from the Egyptian harp preserved in the Louvre, and the rebec copied from a statue in the Chartres museum, to the common piano. We shall not forget the History of the Poster, either typographical or illustrated, represented by specimens arranged chronologically, which shows us the birth of the illustrated poster, then the coloured Claim, its transformations, and the originals of some of the latest lithochrome compositions which adorn our Parisian walls. Astronomy and Chemistry also belong to this section, as well as optical instruments. We had dreamed of reconstructing the models of Chinese observatories and glorifying Ticho Brahe and Copernicus; we had to cut back, but we have assembled some historical instruments of the highest interest; Lavoisier's reconstructed laboratory is one of the attractions of this section; the public, throughout this part, should pay attention to the labels which, taken as a whole, make up a catalogue of the highest interest.

We pass from the first courtyard into the second, and we find section I, devoted to the History of Man.

Anthropology, types, anatomical pieces, reconstructions of prehistoric scenes, casts of races and physical personalities, workshops for making flints, form here a series of picturesque representations figured by life-size figures, and there is no doubt that the naive crowd prefer this section.

All around, under the porticoes, a distinguished sinologist, the Marquis d'Hervey de Saint-Denis, has reconstructed, with figures, the workshops where Chinese ceramics and cloisonne are made, at all stages of the work. To support this, there are beautiful specimens taken from collections. The end of the parallelogram forms an official exhibition, that of the Technical Education, which has its price but which will only fascinate those dedicated to teaching.

If, after having gone through these two parallelograms on the right, we go back to the? If, after having walked through these two parallelograms on the right, we retrace our steps through the outer porticoes, where the Ministry of the Interior exhibits on all the walls the maps of Geography and Cosmography, while behind the same walls the Precision Instruments and Surgery have found their place, In the central pavilion we find the Theatre, and, following straight ahead, we arrive at Section IV, which includes the Collections of the Ponts et Chaussées, the Arts et Métiers, the Lighthouses, the Central School, the bridges, the dams, the models of vehicles, in a word the exhibition of the Means of Transport. There, the absence of types has been made up for by more than 5,000 photographic plates showing representations from twenty centuries before Christ to the 18th century, and it is certain that this is the first time that such a valuable collection of documents has been assembled; but, we repeat, it is necessary to follow the development of progress step by step by the careful reading of the labels which give each representation its special meaning. Smaller models play a large part in this part of the History of Work exhibition, both for Navigation and Roads and for Transport.

Section III, Arts and Crafts, occupies all the porticoes and the last enclosure they enclose; it shows us, by means of examples or representations, everything of interest to the engineer and the artist in industry, the glassmaker, the photographer, the cutler, with their tools and their products, the progress made, and types from all times; one will see there, with interest, reconstructed workshops with the tools of the past. It goes without saying that photography, from which so many valuable inventions are derived, has a large place in this exhibition. The famous Plantin Museum of Antwerp, the pride of Belgian typographers and printers, is represented in this part of the building by a few rare specimens which the city of Antwerp has had great difficulty in separating from.

We can return to the central portico and go up to the upper galleries, or access them via the back stairs. These open galleries, which have the immense nave with its earthenware dome reminiscent of the mosques of the East as their skyline, which rises to 56 metres, are only the complement of the Exhibition, and each section of the ground floor continues at the top, so that we do not have to return to them in our description. The section corresponding to the circular portico occupied on the ground floor by the theatres is reserved, on the terrace, for the progress of aerostation, from the timid hot-air balloon to the ambitious aerostat, which aims at the ideal, the direction of aerostation apparatus.

© Guide Bleu du Figaro et du Petit Journal 1889