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India (Dutch) - Expo Paris 1900

India (Dutch) at the Exhibition Expo Paris 1900

The Netherlands, whose gracious little Queen is so popular in France, had concentrated all the effort of their participation in the Exposition in a selection of their colonial productions, brought together in one of the most original palaces of the Trocadero. (The continental Dutch section was at the Invalides and the Champ-de-Mars, alongside other nations; it comprised 500 exhibitors).

A colonial exhibition was of the utmost importance for the Netherlands: their overseas domain is admirably administered. It was necessary to give a very broad, historical and current picture of this. This was achieved: on the Trocadero terrace, three buildings were erected: a Buddhist monastery, in the purest Hindu-Javanese style, entirely reconstructed with casts brought back from the vihara of Sari, was framed between two colourful buildings, covered in palm fibres, which reproduced with rigorous accuracy the current types of dwellings in western Sumatra.

The construction of these three reproductions alone could constitute an incomparable attraction, and one that could hardly be matched artistically or ethnographically in the whole of the Exhibition. It represented several years of delicate and meticulous work, interspersed with research, excavations and exploratory trips, the results of which had helped to provide archaeologists, artists and scholars with a collection of documents whose achievement has no precedent in Europe.

The three buildings were connected by a spacious terrace, which was accessed by a staircase. A row of dhyâni Buddha's, from the Bôrô-Boudour, also moulded on the originals, extended in front of this terrace and along its entire length, thus giving the whole a most pleasing character of unity.

The bas-reliefs of the monastery, both inside and out, were largely taken from the Bôrô-Boudour and thus depict some passages of the life of Buddha according to sculptural documents dating back more than ten centuries, and which, in spite of this, are in a state of preservation that is astonishing. The artists found in this reconstruction a richness of inspiration and a flexibility, a genius, even, of interpretation, which astonished them; there was there, in particular, for the decorative art, an admirable teaching, entirely based on the simplicity of the lines, and which was revealed in an infinity of admirable motifs of richness and variety. The columns and other sculptures that adorned the interior of the building were in a no less astonishing state of preservation. We would like to point out in particular the statue of the goddess Prajnjaparamita of Buddhist sculpture, comparable, by the nobility of the lines and the power of the expression, to the best productions of Greek art.

The reconstruction of this monastery, which was undoubtedly one of the jewels of the Exhibition, was carried out by Lieutenant-Colonel G.-B. Hooyer. The interior, shaded by a mauve velum, contained pieces that we liked better the more we got to know them.

Besides the triumphant statuette of Prajnjaparamita, the supreme goddess, there were twenty pieces of the utmost beauty; thus, the green bronze statuette of Çiva, thus two small women prostrate and presenting their homage to their superior and master; thus a bust of the moon, or Tjandra, high tiara, smiling with the enigmatic smile of the Mona Lisa, and so many more.

The northern pavilion housed, under a light framework, serious subjects: geography, topography, geology, ethnology; its tone was almost austere, purplish red, enhanced by golden sculptures on the wooden pillars and the thin crossbeams. On the other hand, the curious had a lot of fun in the southern pavilion, whose contents are extremely varied.

The colourful harmony that could be savoured from the very first moment of entry was enchanting; bright red frames, pink velum, filtering like the glow of dawn, and, under the roofs, silk panels of an extinguished yellow, framed with pale lilac bands, banners of faded chrome all embroidered falling from the beams, discreet gilding thrown in profusion here and there, on the wood, on the fabrics, on prestigious carpets of filigree and silk.

Around the perimeter of the room ran a frieze of cut-out leather puppets; these were the actors of the theatre or Wayang of the Sousou-hounan of Sourakarta, obligingly lent by him, delightful puppets, innumerable, infinitely varied and alertly cut out.

Further on, we saw statuettes, rare, of divinities: the whole pantheon of Hinduism, haughty goddesses like Juno, wise like Minerva, grimacing, monstrous gods, veritable nightmare apparitions. Opposite, the chair, cut out, chiselled like a shrine, all gilded, in which, on solemn days, their august effigies are carried around. These were the elements of the Çivaïtic cult of the island of Bali.

They were the delight of scholars. Mr. C.-M. Pleyte had gone especially to the island of Bali and to that of Lombok where the Hindu religion still survives in a certain originality. With the help of government officials, Brahmin priests and some district chiefs, he had the entire series of Hindu gods copied, previously determined with the most rigorous attention.

Here and there, in a clever jumble, were printed fabrics, very curious, in various states of work, and embroideries. Here, at the far end, was a strange display of crates, bags, mats, and various wrappings on which were stuffed carnivores with sharp teeth, near birds unknown to us. And one of these birds was frightening, large, veiled, provided with disproportionate claws, bristling everywhere with spurs, on the head, on the wings, formidably armed for battle, the typical warrior. This whole colonial section had been organised under the direction of Mr. J. Yzerman, former Chief Engineer of the Dutch East Indies Railway, and Lieutenant-Colonel G.-B. Hooyer; the buildings had been erected under the direction of Captain-Engineer J.-Z. Stuten, and the curious mills had been constructed under the direction of Mr. G.-B. Hooyer. Stuten, and the curious mouldings with which the interior and exterior of these buildings were lined had been executed by M. von Saher on originals found in Java and Sumatra.

In examining these marvels so well arranged, one felt oneself in the presence of a race nailed with all the colonising qualities, exceptionally strong, marvellously gifted for study, for art and for work, a race constantly bent on the serious side of things, and directed, encouraged, supported in this way by the admirable solicitude of a government to which indissoluble bonds, because they are made of sympathy and patriotism, bind it for ever.

The Dutch have, in fact, this admirable advantage over other peoples in that, among them, love of country has found a personification and, as it were, a tangible realisation in the love of the Queen. The Queen! The Dutch say this as we say: France! and perhaps with an even more vibrant and emotional faith, because it is addressed to an ideal which is closer to them, which is involved in their lives, which is concerned with their interests and their greatness and which really presides over their destinies. The worship of this people for its charming Sovereign, a worship so deserved and so just, to which the nation owes a great part of its strength and will owe the best of its future, is also a tribute of gratitude given to the Queen Mother.

If we were to draw a parallel between what Holland showed us at the Exhibition of 1878, those twenty years would appear to be the most wonderful period of progress which a people can record in its history.

The Exhibition of the Netherlands and its Colonies was organised under the direction of Baron Michiels de Verduynen, Vice-President of the Second Chamber of the States General, President of the Royal Commission and General Commissioner of the Government. The delegated commissioner was Baron Van Asbeck. In addition, as it was difficult to give an idea of the varied popular life of the millions of inhabitants of the Dutch possessions by means of visible objects alone, especially when it was a question of showing the progress made, and sometimes also the gaps that needed to be filled, a committee was elected from among the members of the Royal Commission, which was specially charged with the composition of a Guide through the Exhibition and with the installation of the reading room.

The catalogue published by this committee was very interesting; it contained, in addition to the description of the objects exhibited, notes of a very instructive general scope, allowing an appreciation of all the progress of Dutch colonisation since 1889.

©Paul Gers - 1900