All of Paris was alight with excitement and anticipation on the 14th of April, for it marked the opening of the Exposition Universelle of 1900. Like the first Exposition and those that followed, it was an expression of national pride in its achievements. This one, though, was special. It had been announced by the Republic of France eight years earlier and was a celebration of the entry into the new century, both a field for healthy competition and a means to foster understanding between nations.
The structures built for the Exposition changed the landscape of Paris for all time. The most visible manifestation, with the most lasting impact, was in the stations of the new Paris Métropolitain designed by Hector Guimard, as well as the train stations built to accommodate visitors coming from outside of Paris, such as the Gare d’Orsay (now the Musée d’Orsay) and the Gare de Lyon, with its restaurant, Le Train Bleu.
The architecture of the Grand Palais and the Petit Palais combines elements of neo-Baroque and Art Nouveau, although the Petit Palais is more evidently Art Nouveau, particularly in its wrought iron work.
Although the expression “Art Nouveau” had first appeared in Belgium in the 1880’s, it was popularized and the name applied to the style after the pavilion of Siegfried Bing, who was the proprietor of a shop called la Maison de L’Art Nouveau in the 9th arrondissement.
The Exposition was a showcase for innovation and industry, and each industry had its pavilion. One of my favorites was that of the Manufacture nationale de Sèvres, sculpted in polychromatic ceramic in typical Art Nouveau style. Its portal exists to this day, in Square Félix Desruelles, adjacent to the Église de Saint-Germain-des-Prés on the boulevard side.
The Exposition achieved its intended goals, but its early popularity waned in the ensuing months, and the Republic was left with a financial burden that would be felt for years to come.