Our wonderful Portland Art Museum, called PAM for short, has a new exhibit for this summer. It is called Paris 1900 and has 233 items on display from La Belle Epoch, or Beautiful Age, in Paris from 1871 to 1914.
These items range from a small waterfall hat pin made of gold, opals and diamonds to monumental statues and paintings that fill a wall. The exhibit covers the Paris World Exposition of 1900, but also the art, prints, clothes, and nightlife of The City of Lights. It includes art depicting La Parisienne, an almost cult-like worship of the perfect Paris Woman– stylish, opulent, and beautiful.
The World Exposition recorded 51 million paying visitors (at one franc apiece) over seven months, at a time when the entire population of Paris was just about 10 million. Paris prepared for the crowds by laying the first lines of the now-famous Metro subway and laying in a moving sidewalk to help folks get around the Fair.
The Eiffel Tower had been a part of Paris since 1889 and served as a centerpiece for the Fair. The Grand Palais and the Petit Palais were newly built of iron, glass and masonry to be permanent structures to display French art. Other magnificent, but temporary, buildings were built on the banks of the Seine River by visiting countries to show off their own art and industry. Switzerland built a chalet next to a tall waterfall like you would find in the Alps. Sudan built an enormous grass hut, four stories tall. The United States’ building had lots of domes and bald eagles.
The Museum showed hours of film shot by the Lumiere brothers, the first professional film studio. These show the displays, boat tours, dancing and excitement of the Fair. There was also a beautifully restored copy of George Melies’ Voyage to the Moon. This was a delightful, theatrical, fantastic film that every movie about space has borrowed from, whether they know it or not.
I am sure we will return to PAM many times this summer to immerse ourselves in the beauty of Paris 1900.