Universal Exhibitions, Real and Utopian Architecture


Edouard Loviot A Banquet Hall in the Machine Gallery, Universal Exhibition of 1900© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski
From 1851 onwards, the lives of the great capitals were governed by the rhythm of the Universal Exhibitions, genuine laboratories, repositories of architecture and ornament. The idea of a peaceful international confrontation combining trade, industry and Fine Arts became a reality with the first Universal Exhibition in London whose centrepiece was the Crystal Palace, a monument to innovation with its transparency, its size and its construction techniques.

In 1855, the first Parisian Universal Exhibition attempted to respond to this stunning London achievement with the Palace of Industry (Palais de l'Industrie). Located at the lower end of the Champs-Elysées, this building initially intended to last, was destroyed at the end of the century to make way for the 1900 Exhibition. From this, Paris inherited one of its most imposing cityscapes: the Grand Palais, Petit Palais and the Pont Alexandre III.

Meanwhile, 1889 celebrated the triumph of iron architecture with the Palais des Beaux-Arts et des Arts Libéraux, the Galerie des machines and the Tour de 300 mètres (the Eiffel Tower).

At first the exhibitions were small-scale but, from 1867 onwards, they became genuine ephemeral cities, eclectic and colourful, which, when situated at the very heart of the capital, introduced an element of contradiction. In Paris, from 1855 to 1900, the Exhibition gradually occupied the Champs de Mars, the Esplanade des Invalides, the Trocadéro, part of the Champs-Elysées as well as both banks of the Seine between Trocadéro and the Champs-Elysées, occupying 16 hectares (approximately 40 acres) in 1855 and 135 hectares (335 acres) by 1900.

The exhibition brings to light the imagination of the architects and the diversity of the buildings thanks to the museum's rich collection of architectural drawings and to the Eiffel collection, enabling these stunning achievements to be brought to life again.


Caroline Mathieu, chief curator, Musée d'Orsay.

19 June - 16 September 2007
Musée d'Orsay

Graphic Arts Gallery

Admission with the museum ticket

Enlarge font size Reduce font size Tip a friend Print