The Palais de la Porte Dorée

In 1931 there was a “Paris Colonial Exhibition”. It lasted for six months and took place in the Bois-de-Vincennes (see previous posts, e.g. here, here, here and here). France was then the second biggest colonial empire, after the British one. Some territories, like Algeria, were already considered as French departments, but most of them were still real colonies, basically to be found in northern, central and western Africa, south-east Asia, the Middle East, the Caribbean… One looked of course differently on the colonial issues in 1931 than what we do today, but by this exhibition France somehow wanted to show it all in a positive way already. France obviously wanted to demonstrate an attitude of “association” rather than “domination”. The exhibition actually seems to have been a forum for discussion of colonialism in general with some hundred congresses, also with other nations participating.

The whole area around the Bois-de-Vincennes lakes was occupied by buildings, huts, temples… in different architectural styles. 

Almost all of that is now gone, but there is especially one building left, the Colonial Museum, which has taken on other “roles” since, becoming an Overseas Museum, a Museum for African and Oceanien Arts  (now transferred to the Quai-de-Branly Museum, see post here) and today it’s a Museum of Immigration History. The building is also known with a more neutral name - "The Palais de la Porte Dorée."

The building as such is worth a visit. Actually I’m not showing anything from the museum as such, nor from the aquarium (maybe another time), but I’m just concentrating on the building.  

We can see a photo from when the building was inaugurated. A statue of Athena (by Léon-Ernest Drivier, 1878-1951) is standing on the front stairs. It has since got a new place, close to the museum.

The "Palais" is of course built in an “art déco” style, typical for the period. The architect was Albert Laprade (1883-1978), known for a number of other quite remarkable buildings. Especially the “Forum”, the central hall, is worth a visit - see also top picture. I was maybe particularly impressed by Laprade's design of the natural light (without seeing the sky) from the ceiling.

The walls are decorated by frescoes by Pierre Ducos de la Haille (1886-1972), assisted by his students from the “Ecole des Beaux Arts” (see previous posts). Looking on the details, we must remember that we are almost 80 years ago.

The floors, both the wooden and the mosaic tile parts, are worth a special look.

There are two special reception rooms, one in the name of Marshall Lyautey (1854-1934), who was the General Commissioner of the Exposition, the other one in the name of Paul Reynaud (1878-1966), who was then the Minister of the Colonies, later Prime Minister – resigning when the Germans arrived in 1940, imprisoned… Both rooms have frescoes and have some remarkable furniture in an “art déco” style.

Coming back to the exterior… The entire facade is covered with bas-reliefs – ships, ocean, wildlife… and a perhaps somewhat idealized vision of the exploitation of the colonies - by Alfred Janniot (1889-1969), whose art we can also find e.g. at the “Palais de Tokyo”, see here.

Maybe a last little thing, in front of the building there is a basin full of colourful fish.


martinealison said...

Bonjour cher Peter,

Une très jolie découverte !
J'admire de très belles oeuvres...
Merci pour ce joli billet.

Gros bisous 🌸

MadAboutParis said...

Bravo Peter!
Per usual: great photos - and awesome research. Looking forward to your reviews of the museum and the aquarium!

Should any of your subscribers have the chance to visit Rockefeller Center in NYC, this is another example of his work:


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