Universal and International Exhibition of Paris 1900

The balance sheet of a century

April 15, 1900-November 12, 1900


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Germany

Germany at the Exhibition Expo Paris 1900

It was the first time since 1870 that Germany had officially participated in one of our Universal Exhibitions, and it was clear that she had made an effort to respond with dignity to the courteous invitation extended to her by the government of the Republic. Indeed, not only were her industries amply represented in the various sections of the Champ-de-Mars and the Invalides, but she also insisted on having her place in the Cité des Nations built at the Quai d'Orsay.
Germany's official palace was located there between those of Norway and Spain, facing the Seine. It was a vast edifice of beautiful proportions, whose tall and elegant silhouette attracted the eye no less than the brilliant paintings that covered its picturesque façades, perhaps with a little prodigality. The imperial architects wanted to present us with a typical model of sixteenth-century German civil architecture, and for this purpose they made use of parts borrowed from various famous town halls, which they very skilfully juxtaposed.
The main facade on the quay side had a round-headed bay forming the entrance and was crowned by a somewhat heavy balcony, the balustrade of which was framed by knights armed from head to foot. The high gable above was, as we have said, covered with brightly coloured frescoes framing a large mullioned window. These frescoes, as well as those on the other facades, were composed of allegorical figures from ancient Teutonic legends and interspersed with Gothic inscriptions celebrating German virtues. Here, for example, one could read: Deutche art voll Ernst und Pficht - blüh'in Gottes Luft und Licht; which we will translate as: "German genius full of seriousness and duty - flourish in the air of God's light.
A high belfry, glittering with colour and gilding and bearing a gigantic clock face on its sides, flanked the eastern corner of the building and formed its prominent motif; elegant windows with carved pilasters projected from its middle storey, its high belfry, looking like huge helmets, contained a carillon playing Rhenish lieder.
On the left façade, there was a pretty bay with a fivefold arcade supported by caryatids and framed by flamboyant frescoes where we read: "Deutsche Hand die Hammer schwinge - schmied du Feuer Pflug und Klinge", i.e.: "German Hand that wields the hammer, forges the ploughshare and sword with fire". There was, moreover, for those of our young readers who were learning German, a real book to leaf through along the walls of this palace.
On the opposite side to the facade we have just described, charming old Nuremberg houses had been reproduced, with delicately carved exposed timbers and also decorated with the inevitable allegorical paintings.
The ground floor of the palace was occupied, on the Seine side, by several rooms containing a very interesting exhibition of German books, engravings, photographs, etc. From there we reached an immense vestibule, opening onto the Rue des Nations and leading to a magnificent white marble staircase of a somewhat overwhelming sumptuousness.
This staircase led to the first floor, which, like the ground floor, was partly devoted to the collections of bookshops and printing works, in particular the Royal Printing House. The main attraction was the reproduction of the masterpieces of Albert Dürer. Another room, illuminated by stained glass windows from the Berlin Institute for Glass Painting, contains an exhibition on social economics.
This was the end of the part of the palace that was open to all, but certainly not the most interesting. To visit the rest, one had to show a white card, which the German commissariat issues without difficulty to anyone who requests it in writing; and the thing was well worth submitting to this slight formality, which was mainly intended to avoid crowding in the restricted rooms filled with precious objects. It was indeed a question of seeing the "Imperial Collection", that is to say the magnificent French works of art drawn from the collections of Frederick the Great and which by a happy inspiration Emperor William had sent here for the period of the Exhibition. The French were certainly touched by the delicate attention of the intelligent sovereign, whom they all regretted not being able to classify as one of our "friends"; but this is not the moment to revive memories that are too painful.
Card in hand, we entered the rooms of the "imperial collection".
We know how much Frederick the Great, who was certainly no friend of France either, nevertheless loved everything that emanated from our country, which he considered to be the home of letters and the arts. Thus he called to his court - where our language was in common use - the main French writers and artists of the time, and to them he entrusted the decoration of his palaces.
A portion of the flats of the great Prussian king at Potsdam had been reconstructed here. One of the rooms, which was an exact reproduction of the prince's library, contained a complete edition of his works, written for the most part in French; a bust by Houdon, representing the sardonic mask of Voltaire, who was, as we know, the literary director and collaborator of the monarch, was placed there.
The other rooms, also furnished with antique furniture and decorated with great taste, were devoted to an exhibition of French painters of the eighteenth century. Watteau was represented by some first-rate paintings, the shepherds, the Dance; Lancret, his rival, by a number of very important works, for example the Colin-Maillard, the portrait of the Camargo. By Jean-Baptiste Pater, a pupil of Watteau, there are fourteen small paintings illustrating Scarron's Roman comique, then the Bath, the Dance in the open air, and another Colin-Maillard. Lastly, there were Chardin's marvels: the Young Draughtsman, the Turnip Peeler and an excellent replica of the Provider, from the Louvre. These four painters were the kings of the collection
However, we must mention two beautiful paintings by Amédée Van Loo, a painting by Charles Coypel, a beautiful painting by Troy, and a dancer by Antoine Pesne.
Two tapestry portraits of the Gabelins, a Louis XVI, signed Diplessis and Cozette, and a Henri IV, were exquisitely charming in their colouring. Among the furniture, we particularly appreciated a large Regency clock whose marquetry sheath was decorated with gilded bronzes of the most perfect taste, a cardboard cabinet in the Caffieri style, and a whole series of marble or porphyry vases enhanced with superb bronze and gilded motifs.
All this was of French origin and manufacture; but the salons contained other pieces, executed for Frederick II in Potsdam by French or German artists, and among which were two cedar wood chests of drawers decorated with chased silver fittings, two armchairs, two sofas, a silvered wooden stool and a tortoiseshell music stand decorated with silver arabesques and trimmed with gilded bronzes.
The furniture was upholstered in moonlight silk, which matched the silver trim and the silver wood frames, but which seemed to match only poorly with the old gold wall hangings. Most of the pictures were presented in their old, curved frames; some of these frames were, like the seat mounts, silvered.
From the slight outline we have just given, we can judge of the interest of the artistic wealth that the salons of the German pavilion boasted. "Can one more nobly contribute to the great peaceful celebration of the Universal Exhibition than by recalling, through this return to the past, the memory of what the German people owe, in the field of art, to the neighbouring nation and the memory of the homage paid by the Great Frederick, one of the greatest minds of all time, to French civilisation and art?
Certainly, one cannot say it better and everyone will approve of these words and the high thought that dictated them.

©Louis Rousselet - L'Exposition Universelle de 1900