Paris 1900 — La ville spectacle


Jewellery, painting, sculpture

Paris 1900
La ville spectacle

Past: April 2 → August 17, 2014

The exhibition Paris 1900, la Ville spectacle is an invitation to the public to relive the splendour of the French capital at the time when the Paris Exposition Universelle was heralding the arrival of the 20th century. More than ever before, Paris was seen throughout the world as a sparkling city of luxury with a sophisticated way of life. Over 600 works will plunge visitors to the Petit Palais into the atmosphere of Belle Époque Paris. There will be paintings, objets d’art, costumes, posters, photographs, films, furniture, jewellery and sculptures. The technical inventions, the cultural effervescence, and the sheer elegance of Parisian women will be staged and displayed as representa- tive legends of that Paris whose image has been promoted in literature and the cinema throughout the world.

An inventive and original scenography integrating the new-fangled cinematograph into the museum trail takes the visitor on a journey similar to that made by the 51 million tourists who flocked to Paris in 1900.

The trail is organised around six “pavilions” and begins with a section called “Paris, window on the world” — a reference to the Exposition Universelle. New railway stations were built for the Exposition : the Gare de Lyon, the Gare d’Orsay and the Gare des Invalides, as well as the first Metro line, the Métropolitain. This extraordinary event will be commemorated in the exhibition with architectural projects, paintings, films and also picturesque souvenirs and pieces of scenery and decoration that have been kept since the time.

Binet medium
René Binet, Projet pour la Porte monumentale de l’Exposition universelle de 1900, 1898 © Cl. Musées de Sens — E. Berry

But Paris 1900 is far more than a tribute to the Exposition Universelle. Paris at that time offered many more opportunities for wonderment and for spending your money. In the luxury shops and the art galleries, art-lovers could discover the creations of the pioneers of Art Nouveau. They are presented here in a second pavilion devoted to masterpieces by artists such as Gallé, Guimard, Majorelle, Mucha, and Lalique.

The third section is allotted to the fine arts and underlines the central place that Paris occupied on the art scene. At that time talents from everywhere were converging on the French capital to train in studios, to exhibit in the Sa- lons and to sell their wares in the expanding network of art galleries. The international aspect is evoked with paintings by Edelfet, who was Finnish, Zuloaga, a Spaniard, and the American Stewart. But the show also holds up for comparison paintings by Cézanne, Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, and Vuillard, alongside works by Gérôme, Bouguereau and Gervex, artists whose acclaim ranged from Aca-demicism to Impressionism (now finally recognized), to late Symbolism, with new figures to contemplate such as Maillol and Maurice Denis, while the art of Rodin reigns supreme.

Rodin amour et psyche medium
Auguste Rodin, Amour et Psyché, 1885 Marbre — 25 × 65 × 41,5 cm © Paris, Petit Palais / Roger-Viollet

The visitor is next confronted by the creations of Paris fashion, then at its zenith. Its success was emblazoned on the monumental doorway to the Exposition Universelle, which was surmounted by the figure of a Parisian woman dressed by Jeanne Paquin. The fashion houses of the Rue de la Paix attracted a vastly wealthy cosmopolitan clientele, and also served as inspiration for the clothes of the midinettes. The finest treasures of the Palais Galliera, like the famous evening cape by Worth, will be accompanied by large society portraits by La Gandara and Besnard, and paintings depicting the world of milliners and dressmakers’ errand girls by Jean Béraud and Edgar Degas.

The remaining two pavilions offer a taste of the world of entertainment in Paris: from the triumphs of Sarah Bernhardt to the successes of Yvette Guilbert, from Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande to l’Aiglon by Edmond Rostand, from opera to café-concert, and from the circus to the brothels. The illustrations of the bright as well as the dark side of this city abandoning itself to plea- sure give substance to the idea that it remained the capital of the world and the source of all gratifications. Legendary venues like the Moulin Rouge and Le Chat Noir became favourite subjects for artists like Toulouse-Lautrec. From the great demimondaines Liane de Pougy and La Belle Otero to the horrors of prostitution and drugs, the exhibition shows the other side of the picture, themes which would prove to be influential in aesthetic revolutions.

Lautrec medium
Henri De Toulouse Lautrec, Marcelle Lender dansant le boléro dans Chilpéric, 1895 Huile sur toile — 145 × 149 cm National Gallery of Art, Washington (U.S.A.), 190.127.1. Don Betsey Cushing Whitney, 1990. © Bridgeman Giraudon

The legend of the Belle Époque has endured to this day not only because of the contrast with the horrors of the First World War, which followed so soon after it, but because there was a genuine cultural blossoming. Its unprecedented force is demonstrated in this exhibition. The Petit Palais is the most beautiful architectural gem remaining from the year 1900 in Paris. Now at last this wonderful building is devoting an important exhibition to that seminal period. There is a programme of events and an extra trail through the permanent galleries, showing paintings from the collection that have never been seen before. A tribute to the period such as Paris has never yet seen.

There is a mobile app for the exhibition. It will be available at the end of March. It deals with the theme of Paris at the beginning of the 20th century and also the exhibition and objects relating to those years in the collections of the Petit Palais.

08 Paris 8 Zoom in 08 Paris 8 Zoom out

Avenue Winston Churchill

75008 Paris

T. 01 53 43 40 00

Official website

Champs-Élysées – Clemenceau

Opening hours

Every day except Monday, 10 AM – 6 PM
Late night on Friday until 9 PM
Late night on Saturday & Sunday until 8 PM
Nocturnes uniquement pour les expositions temporaires

Admission fee

Full rate €13.00 — Concessions €11.00

Free acces to permanent collections

The artists

  • Claude Monet
  • Auguste Rodin
  • Edgar Degas
  • Paul Cézanne
  • Pierre Auguste Renoir
  • Camille Piton
  • Joseph Marius Avy
  • Henri Gervex
  • René François Xavier Prinet
  • René Binet
And 6 others…