In June 1861, the young Charles Garnier won the competition, launched in December 1860, for the construction of a new opera house in Paris. He began by producing a number of studies in order to refine the design presented to the judges.
In December 1861, Garnier wrote to Count Walewski to ask permission to produce a model: “When the composition of a building comprises different planes offering a variety of perspectives and aspects […], the best way [to judge the project] is to construct a complete model of the building. […] This model may consist of different parts that can be moved independently, making it possible, by trying out the various proposals for these parts, to give the model, and ultimately the monument, a satisfactory overall design.”
Following this request, from April 1862 to April 1863, he had an enormous model built in plaster by the ornamental sculptor Louis Villeminot (it disappeared in 1922). The model here was probably produced at the same time.
It was made in cherry wood, like the majority of architectural models at that time, and with great accuracy as, in spite of its small scale, it is possible to recognise exactly the sculptural programme laid out from 1863 onwards. Unlike the plaster model, it had movable sections, just as Garnier had specified.
Made up of several parts, the sections were assembled according to the different stages of the project: thus, the roof is consistent with the drawings of spring 1862, at which point Garnier had not yet designed the sloping roof or the zenithal lighting above the entrance and the main staircase, whereas the representation of Dance on the facade corresponds to Carpeaux’s finished design, adopted in 1868.