Grand Palais and Petit Palais, Paris

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Grand-Palais and Petit-Palais are impressive buildings that were designed for the 1900 Universal Exhibition as a showcase of Paris’ splendour to the world.


The Grand Palais

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The Grand Palais displays a 240 metre long facade by Henri Deglane on Avenue Winston Churchill, with an iconic colonnade behind which runs a mosaic frieze portraying art across different civilisations. Two monumental bronze quadrigae (statues depicting a chariot with flying horses) by Georges Récipon crown each end of the main facade. On the Champs-Elysées’ side, the quadriga depict “Immortality ahead of Time” and on the Seines’ side “Harmony triumphing over Discord”.

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A masterpiece of Art Nouveau for its ironwork, the main roof of the Grand Palais is made of steel and glass. The palace is topped by an superb, enormous, flattened dome, 45 metres above the ground. The weight of the glass, iron and steel structure is estimated to be 8,500 tonnes. The metal alone accounts for 6,000 tonnes, equivalent to the weight of the Eiffel Tower built a decade before.

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From 1993 to 2005, the Grand Palais was closed to the public during its indoor and outside renovation. Its great hall of 77,000 square metres now hosts temporary exhibitions from around the world. The western side of the building also houses the Palais de la Découverte, a popular museum dedicated to scientific discovery which features a planetarium.

In one of its pediments is an engraving which describes the Grand Palais as a “monument dedicated by the Republic to the glory of French art”.


The Petit Palais

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Opposite the Grand Palais stands its counterpart, the Petit Palais. Built at the same time as the Grand Palais by architect Charles Girault, it elegantly displays the architecture of “La Belle Epoque”.

While the Grand Palais belongs to the State, the Petit Palais is owned by the City of Paris which has used it as the Paris Fine Arts Museum (Musée des Beaux-Arts de Paris).

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The Petit Palais is organised around a semi-circular courtyard which hosts a garden. The façade presents an iconic colonnade, a grand porch with remarkable railings and a gold-leafed door. The tympanum displays the City of Paris surrounded by muses, by sculptor Jean Antoine Injalbert.

The façade inspired several other buildings in the world, such as the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren, Belgium (also designed by Charles Girault) and Saigon’s opera house in Vietnam (built in 1900).

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At the same time as its counterpart, the Grand Palais, the Petit Palais went through a complete and successful renovation in the last decade to return it to its initial glory.

The collections in the Fine Arts Museum feature great pieces of art. In 1902, Eugène and Auguste Dutuit donated their collection of 20,000 items which included antiques, medieval and Renaissance art objects, paintings (Rembrandt, Rubens…), drawings (Schongauer, Dürer…), books, enamels, and porcelain. Then, in 1930, Edward and Julia Tuck bequeathed their collection of French art items of the 18th century.

Other famous features of the Fine Arts Museum include works from Eugène Delacroix, Auguste Renoir, Jacques Louis David, Camille Pissarro, Edouard Manet, Claude Monet, Gustave Moreau…


The Republican Axis

From the Place Clemenceau, another ‘Grand Perspective’ opens towards the Hôtel des Invalides, passing through the Grand Palais and the Petit Palais, the Pont Alexandre III and the Esplanade des Invalides. Because it was completed during the 3rd French Republic, it was commonly known as the “Republican Axis”, echoing the older “Historical Axis” along the Champs-Elysées.


Official website of Paris Tourist Office Board: http://www.parisinfo.com

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About Author

Pierre is a French/Australian who is passionate about France and its culture. He grew up in France and Germany and has also lived in Australia and England. In 2014 he moved back to Europe from Sydney with his wife and daughter to be closer to their families and to France. He has a background teaching French and holds a Master of Translating and Interpreting English-French with the degree of Master of International Relations and a degree of Economics and Management.

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