The artistic industries of our country have asserted themselves with mastery in their various exhibitions. Even if one sacrifices to the general fault of French opinion, which consists in preferring works from abroad to national productions, it is impossible to affirm that our industrial arts cannot stand comparison with what is produced beyond our borders. Our similar industries face this comparison with ease, and only preconceived minds will speak of inferiority. "A comparative walk through the two lines of the Palais des Invalides proves this abundantly, and in many cases our superiority would be undeniable, if our industrialists, by virtue of previous successes, did not remain in the reconstructions of the past, instead of moving forward.
For the ordinary public, the great defect of this exhibition at the Invalides is that it repeats what can be seen daily at the stalls of our boulevards and our elegant streets, because the industries represented, if they have their workshops and manufacturing plants in the provinces, maintain in Paris depot shops which constitute as many permanent exhibitions.
For this reason, we will shorten this review, by limiting ourselves to the manifestations of the new art, which characterize in a special way the Exhibition of 1900. Let us mention them at random, because, in spite of the much-vaunted classification, the most perfect disorder reigns in this exhibition, and the most disparate products are brought together and confused, as if to offer a challenge to sound logic.
If we enter under the pretty peristyle of the Palais de M. Tropey-Bailly, along the rue de Grenelle, we find ourselves in the jewellery and in the sparkle of the most precious gems: there, reigns, by virtue of its mass, the Jubilee, a diamond of 239 carats, which is coveted by an admiring crowd. Not far away, an exhibition attracts and holds us, that of M. Lalique, with his dreamy and enchanting jewels, of such new inspiration, such perfect execution and such delicate colouring. The precious material no longer counts; the jewel of M. Lalique is a poet's work, which is only revealed to the initiated. Let us leave jewellery and the rivers of diamonds, often contemplated in the shop windows of the Rue de la Paix, and move on to goldsmiths, where the masters of genius have accumulated marvels; there too, art nouveau asserts its right to be present, and in the salon of the Maison Christophe, among other marvels, we notice a table top with electric lighting.
Let us not speak of religious goldsmithing; it is high time that this art was renewed and left the odious banality in which it is confined. In the art bronzes, among the impeccable productions, too clean and too raked, the exhibition of Mrs Sarah Bernhard stops us by the capricious pace, the fantasy and the nervousness of the art bronzes which surround the masterly bust of the master Victorien Sardou. Also worth seeing are the bronzes by M. Frémiet, among which are reproductions of the biscuit statue exhibited further on by the Manufacture de Sèvres, which has a much more powerful effect in bronze with a golden patina than in the pale aspect of biscuit.
Behind a classical colonnade, furniture and tapestries spread out and stop the visitor; this is the centennial exhibition, which, beginning with a chronological licence with the Louis XVI period, leads us to the Second Empire. Furniture from the first Empire dominates, in choice examples; industrial art, at this time, shows a unity, an unchanging line; cold, dry and gloomy, it stands together, but what can be said of the Restoration and especially of the time of Louis-Philippe? A (Gothic!) showcase is submitted to our admiration, where a reproduction of Joan of Arc, by Princess Marie d'Orléans, is lounging, which is the height of hideousness. As for the Second Empire, it is the splendour of glitz and bad taste, in spite of the furniture of Fourdinois, which is recommended by an astonishing execution, but of an overloaded composition. A series of furnished, stretched and upholstered rooms complete this interesting lesson. First there is a delightful Louis XVI room; then a bedroom (1791) with light grey lacquered furniture and toile de Jouy hangings; then a Directoire room with a Pompeian décor. We pass to the First Empire salon, with a woodwork of Ionic pilasters and overmantels of yellow silk damask; dark mahogany furniture with chased and gilded brass, matt; the obligatory harp and the tapestry loom on which is spread a superb cashmere shawl. Here is Talma's room, in lemon tree and light blue silk damask, brocaded in pale yellow; further on a Restoration room with a monumental cartonnier. The royalty of 1830 is represented by furniture of lemon tree, inlaid with ebony; damask hangings on draped muslin; the wallpaper reproduces this hanging.
As for the Napoleon III salon, it is furnished with furniture that pretends to imitate the Louis XVI style.
The contemplation of these reconstructions allows one to grasp the forward march, attempted in the name of art nouveau, of which one finds interesting examples in the exhibition of furniture, and in the decorative ensembles. Alongside luxury furniture, we see complete installations, of average price, and this is a happy attempt. Rich people had the resource of acquiring skilful copies of the past, but people of modest means had to make do with obnoxious woodwork, decorated with shoddy carvings. Simple and economical furniture did not exist; it would seem that a renaissance is underway in this area. The death of the mirror cabinet, whose career was long enough, should also be noted. This symbol of cheap luxury expired at the beginning of the 20th century.
©L'Exposition de Paris - 1900