A contemporary article on the 1900 Paris Exhibition


Derek B Bartlett

The average visitor to the Paris Exhibition, anxious though he may be to look upon the stately buildings erected to glory art, science, and industry, will in his heart of hearts feel greater anxiety to find his way to the "spectacles" that partake of the startling or of the bizarre.

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The Grand entrance to the Exhibition

Certainly he will have no cause to complain of any lack of variety, if his time be brief. the difficulty will rather be to make a satisfactory selection. After he has walked down the Street of Nations, where the great peoples of the earth, and some of the little ones as well, have built up their national pavilions, after he has visited the buildings erected by France and her colonies, and by England's colonies too, after he has inspected with curiosity the Boer farm and the Creusot Pavilion, reminiscent of "Long Toms" and mammoth projectiles, he will realise that his round of sight-seeing has only just begun.

The ingenuity and the enterprise of those who hope to attract the attention and participate in the wealth of the stranger, certainly command admiration. they will show him not only the wonders of the earth itself, but the marvels of the heavens above, and of the waters under the earth. The provincial Frenchman who is a staid, stay-at-home soul, will be conducted on a tour round the world in the briefest space of time, while the seasoned traveller will find that he too, has not been overlooked.

Whatever else may be said, it is only necessary to cast a brief glance at the list of attractions to realise that the showman's art is in no danger of decay, and to grasp the fact that endless time, skill, and capital have been expended in order to cater for the millions who will be the guests of France during 1900.

The idea of combining amusement with instruction has in several cases been as consistently carried out as if the originators had graduated in the school of Artemus Ward.

The Grande Globe Celeste, for instance, if eminently instructive, is equally a wonderful creation, apart from the educational value claimed for it by its designers. On a huge pedastal, some fifty feet high, it stands a mighty ball, to which access is gained by broad staircases or electric lifts. The diameter of the globe is a hundred and forty feet, and on its surface of azure blue are depicted in gold mythological figures of the constellations, which at night will blaze out in wondrous lights. The globe is crowned at its summit, over sixty yards from the ground, by a platform from which the visitors may view the surrounding Exhibition. But it is the interior that presents attractions for the seeker after knowledge. Here there is a second sphere from which the spectator may watch the workings of the planets, the earth revolving on its axis, the moon passing through her phases, and even eclipses are to be arranged to add to the illusion. The Grand Globe Celeste provides other and more frivolous attractions, but its exposition of the solar system is its chief claim to distinction.

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The diameter of the Grand Celestial Globe is 140 ft

In the shadow of the Eiffel tower is the Palais d'Optique, the attraction of which is what has been called by Parisians "The moon at a Metre". The moon will of course, not be brought within a yard of the amateur astronomer, but the phrase has fairly seized the popular mind. With the aid of the telescope that has been built up here, Mother Earths

satellite will be as visible as if it were only fifty or sixty miles away. This great glass is a marvellous structure. It is about two hundred feet in length, and its total cost, including the apparatus used in connection with its working, is said to have reached #56,000. The manufacture of the machinery necessary for moving a telescope weighing nineteen tons presented enormous difficulties. It was therefore decided that the great glass should be stationary, and that a gigantic side-rostat or movable mirror should be utilised, by means of which the rays of light proceeding from any heavenly body could be caught and thrown into the glass itself. The object thus reflected can be directed through the telescope on to a huge screen so that hundreds of people, comfortably seated may at the same time gaze on wonders revealed by the gigantic glass.

The manufacture of the mirror, weighing as it does some three and a half tons, was attended with many difficulties. A furnace capable of containing twenty tons of glass, was specially built to carry out the work, and in order to obtain two perfect discs it was necessary to make no less than twelve, ten being spoiled in the process of cooling. When the mirror was completed, it was brought by special train to Paris, and carted through the streets by night in order to minimise the danger of accident.

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The Topsy Turvy House

Old Paris, rich in historic and sinister memories, is well represented at the Worlds Fair organised by her modern successor. along the right bank of the Seine, "le Vieux Paris" occupies no inconsiderable area, and many of her features have been faithfully and artistically reproduced. Old Paris is peopled by citizens in the garb of past centuries, and is a picturesque section of the great Exhibition.

The reproduction represents various epochs in the history of France's capital. One part is devoted entirely to the fifteenth century, another illustrates the architecture of the eighteenth, while in a third division there are edifices belonging to various epochs. These historic buildings recall to the mind many wild and turbulent episodes in the stirring history of France.

IT is somewhat startling to suddenly come upon a house in a literal state of topsy-turvydom, and to be politely invited to enter by way of the chimney. A Russian gentleman, it appears, is responsible for the weird idea which has been carried out in the Cours la Reine, near the main entrance in the Place de la Concord. When a residence is constructed with its roof in the ground, it is not surprising to learn that it can be removed from place to place at the will of the proprietor. A feudal mansion in this extraordinary position suggests a staid old gentleman standing on his head, and the designer was not far wrong when he suggested it would certainly attract attention. In the rooms of the "Manoir a l'Envers" to give its official title, there are various optical illusions, and on looking out of the window the visitor will observe that the passers-by appear, like the house itself, to be in an inverted position.

The Aquarium de Paris is devoted to the wonders of the deep. There is shown in minature the bed of tropical ocean and Polar sea. Mackerel, whiting and other familiar fish, as well as representatives of the turtle and the octopus, have found their way to the centre of Paris, to add to the gaiety of nations, and it is anticipated that by bringing water from the sea, and with the aid of an elaborate system of filtration, they, or at all events, most of them, will be kept alive until the Exhibition comes to an end. By an ingenious system of lights a submarine volcano is shown in full eruption, and to complete the picture of deep sea marvels there lies in the ocean bed the wreck of a good ship, with divers hard at work sending the cargo to the surface. In order that details may not be wanting to give reality to the scene, oysters and other shell fish, as well as anemones and sponges, have been collected by the designers of this unique aquarium, whose work of preparation extended over several years.

A building that never fails to arrest the attention of the passer-by is that in which is housed the great panorama known as the Tour du Monde. The ediface itself, though of a composite character, is mainly Indo-Chinese in its aspect, and the lofty towers and great wood carvings, excuted in the far east, which enter so largely into its construction, suggest to the mind distant lands and bluer skies. The entertainment which purports to take the visitor on a journey round the world, has been organised in a remarkable fashion. In order to ensure a faithful portrayal of life in distant lands, M. Louis Dumoulin, painter to the Ministry of Marine, visited many far-off countries, obtained photographs of the most picturesque views and monuments, and at the same time opened up negotiations for the engagement of the dancers and artisans who give life and vraisemblance to the foreground of the picture.

The Tour du Monde is not merely a pictorial representation of the worlds most interesting countries. In order to heighten the effect of the picturesque scenes represented on canvas, groups of natives of the countries conjured up occupy the foreground, so that in passing from city to city, and from continent to continent, the spectator is able to witness certain phases of the national life. here a Syrian potter, surrounded by his family, fashions his ware, there a troupe of Siamese display the curious poses which represent their national dance, In Japan dainty geishas charm the eye, in China tiny actresses perform a curious play, in Spain dark-eyed beauties go through the steps of the witching bolero, Indian jugglers, Japanese wrestlers, and Chinese acrobats help to add life and animation to the scene.

On the outskirts of the Exhibition, near the great wheel, is to be found the Swiss village, which is really, as its designers describe it, an epitome of a entire country. To have built a simple village would have been comparatively easy, there however, we find reproduced a hostelry at Lucerne, a chalet at Brienz, and a house at Berne, in addition to the natural features of the country of mountain and lake. Beneath an overhanging rock is the chapel of William Tell, yonder the house in which the tragedienne Rachel first saw the light. But charming beyond words is the reproduction of Swiss natural scenery, valleys with verdant vegetation, stretching out apparantly into the illimitable distance, fir trees raising their heads in the shadow of lofty precipices, while the humble homes of the peasantry nestle on the mountain side.

Though the highest peaks only tower a hundred and thirty feet above ones head, the illusion is perfect, so well have the proportions been worked out in every detail, that the general effect is picturesque to the eye, and convincing to the mind. Those who have spent happy hours in Switzerland will have pleasant memories revived by a visit to this minature country.

Another picturesque attraction, "Andalusia in the time of the Moors" occupies a place in the garden of the Trocadero. Here are minarets and mosques, dancing girls from Tunis and Tangier, picturesque gitanas and dusky swordsmen renowned for their agility and their strength. The Gate of Justice under which the Moorish kings of Grenada gave judgment, are among the buildings represented, while a huge arena is devoted to the equestrian excercises of Spaniard and Moor.

The silks and chiffons of modern Paris are dear to the heart of the average woman. In the Palace of Costume she will find not only the "Creations" of today, but the dainty gowns and millinery that adorned fair beauties who have long since passed into the shadows. The idea of the Palace of Costume is an ambitious one, and well it has been carried out. Artistic tableaux illustrate the vagaries of fashion, down through the centuries, from the days of the Gaul to the year of grace 1900. In one Josephine surrounded by her maids of honour is displaying to the Emperor the beauties of a new costume. The dress and mantle, in velvet and satin, are embroidered with gold, and the cost of their production was no less than #2,000. This figure relates to the costume actually shown, and not to the original, for which #40,000 is said to have been paid, real diamonds and pearls having been used.


© Exhibition Study Group 1992