Built for the 1900 Exposition Universelle ("universal exhibition"), it now houses the City of Paris Museum of Fine Arts (Musée des beaux-arts de la ville de Paris). The Petit Palais is located across from the Grand Palais on Avenue Nicolas II, today Avenue Winston-Churchill. The other façades of the building face the Seine and Avenue des Champs-Elysees.
The Petit Palais is one of 14 museums of the City of Paris that have been incorporated since January 1, 2013, in the public corporation Paris Musées. It has been listed since 1975 as a monument historique by the French Ministry of Culture.
In 1894 a competition was held for the 1900 Exhibition area. The Palais de l'Industrie from the 1855 World’s Fair was considered unfitting and was to be replaced by something new for the 1900 Exhibition. Architects had the option to do what they pleased (alter, destroy, or keep) with the Palais de l’Industrie. In the end, Charles Girault won the competition and built the Petit Palais as one of the buildings that replaced the Palais de l’Industrie. The construction of the Petit Palais began on October 10, 1897 and was completed in April 1900. The total cost of the Petit Palais at the time of the construction was 400,000 pounds.
Charles Girault largely draws on the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century French style for the Petit Palais. Additionally his work, such as the domed central porch and the triple arcade, has many references to the stables at Chantilly.
Plan of the Building
Girault’s plan for the Petit Palais had minimal alterations from the design to the execution. The plan was original and fit perfectly in its given location. The Petit Palais is a trapezoid shape with its larger side as the main façade facing the Grand Palais. The building’s shape makes a semi-circular courtyard at the center.
The Beaux-Arts style Petit Palais was designed by Charles Girault, and is around an octi-circular courtyard and garden, similar to the Grand Palais. Its ionic columns, grand porch, and dome echo those of the Invalides across the river. The tympanum depicting the city of Paris surrounded by muses is the work of sculptor Jean Antoine Injalbert.
The Petit Palais was built to be a lasting building that would become a permanent fine arts museum after the exhibition. The materials of the building—stone, steel, and concrete as well as the decoration were to demonstrate that the Petit Palais was built to be enduring.
The main façade of the building faces the Grand Palais. The focal point of the façade is the central entrance: “a central archway set in an archivolt topped by a dome and reached by a broad set of steps”. Two wings flank the main entrance. These wings, continuing to the end (corner) pavilions, are embellished with free-standing columns that frame the tall windows.
The exterior of the pavilions are embellished with arched windows from the side around to the rear façades. These grand windows provide side lighting for the outer three galleries of the interior museum.
The exterior of the Petit Palais was embellished with many contemporary sculptures. Several famous sculptors at the time, such as Convers, Desvergens, Fagel, Ferrary, Hugues, Injalbert, and Peynot, worked on the exterior decoration of the building.
The trapezoidal shape of the Petit Palace forms an open area at the center of the building. This enclosed area creates a semicircular, peristyled courtyard. The architecture of the courtyard incorporated many different architectural elements. The elegant courtyard is considered Beaux Arts style because of the “symmetrical composition” and “rich decoration in high relief”. Coupled columns made of pink Vosges granite and gilt-bronze encircle the courtyard and bordering covered gallery. Although the courtyard is in the central part of the Petit Palais, one of the main structures of the Exhibition, its purpose was to provide visitors with a relaxing space apart from the busy Exposition.
The museum is split into two levels with two series of rooms running parallel and juxtaposed. The interior of the Petit Palais was designed to create exhibition spaces “suited to every aspect of a collection: the outer galleries for objects, the inner, skylit ones for paintings, the lower galleries for reserves and the entrance rotunda and main gallery for sculptures”. The entrance rotunda and main gallery was especially grand. The floors were tiled with mosaics, the walls were lined with marble, and the dome and vaults were filled with allegorical paintings.
The exhibits housed in the Petit Palais during the Exhibition displayed the History of Art from the beginning until the present era. The History of French Art from 1800–1900 showed the stages of growth. The inner gallery of Petit Palais exhibited “priceless treasures in ivory, tapestry, metal work, jewelry, and porcelain gathered from the most important collections of France”. The outer gallery was a collection of royal French furniture.
The exhibits are divided into sections: the Dutuit Collection of medieval and Renaissance paintings, drawings and objets d'art; the Tuck Collection of 18th century furniture and the City of Paris collection of paintings. The museum displays paintings by painters such as Rembrandt, Rubens, Nicolas Poussin, Claude Gellée, Fragonard, Hubert Robert, Greuze and a remarkable collection of 19th-century painting and sculpture: Ingres, Géricault, Delacroix, Courbet, Monet, Sisley, Pissarro, Cézanne, Modigliani, Carpeaux, Maillol, Rodin etc. There is also a relatively small but important collection of ancient Greek and Roman art.
Reactions and Influence Abroad
As a whole the architecture of the 1900 Exhibition was not well received however, reactions to the Petit Palais were generally positive. Some people even claimed that the Petit Palais had the “power to educate the mind while it pleases the senses”. King Leopold II of Belgium was very impressed with Girault's execution of the Petit Palais. This admiration started a "fruitful collaboration between monarch and architect". Girault was commissioned to build several structures including: "the Arcade du Cinquantenaire in Brussels, extensions at the Royal Castle of Laeken, [and] a seafront colonnade at Ostend". The Petit Palais has served as a model for other public buildings, notably for the Royal Museum for Central Africa located in Tervuren, Belgium; and the Museo de Bellas Artes (National Museum of Fine Arts) in Santiago, Chile.
John the apostle, detail of a 16th-century painting
Diana Resting, by Jacob Jordaens
Mask of Dionysos Tauros
La naissance d'Aphrodite by Antoine Bourdelle
Psyché sous l'empire du mystère, by Hélène Bertaux
The Seine and its tributaries by Désiré-Maurice Ferrary
Coat of Arms of Paris by Émile Peynot
Quatre saisons by Louis Convers
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Petit Palais.|
- Official website
- Official Paris Musées website
- Paris1900.com: The Petit Palais — 1900 (Exposition Universelle) and current photographs.
- Anderson, A (1900). "The Paris Exhibition Buildings". Architectural Review. 7: 28–37.
- Iwarere, Sesan (2005). Gournay, Isabelle; McEvoy, Jean, eds. "Paris 1900: Petit Palais". World's Fairs: Social and Architectural History. Maryland: University of Maryland Libraries.
- Mérimée PA00088878, Ministère français de la Culture. (in French) Petit Palais, actuellement musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris
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- Butler, Herbert (1901). "The Palaces of Fine Arts". The Art Journal. 41: 43–48.