Grand Palais Paris
A BIT OF HISTORY
The Grand Palais was built for the Paris Exposition of 1900. Before that, the Palais de l’Industrie exhibition hall stood in its place, having been built for the Exposition Universelle of 1855. It was demolished to make way for the Grand Palais, which thankfully went on to stand the test of time.
The architectural competition was launched in 1896 and multiple plans were submitted for two art exhibition spaces. Et voilà! That’s exactly what was created, with the Grand Palais and Petit Palais still standing opposite one another to this day.
But no one design ticked all the boxes, so a collective approach was decided upon with inspiration being drawn from across several projects. In the end, four architects were involved in the design.
Work on the Grand Palais began in 1897, meaning this mammoth construction project had to be pulled off within the space of just three years. Can you imagine the suspense with 1,500 people busy working on the build in 1900? Despite all kinds of delays and problems, the doors to the Grand Palais were opened in time for the Paris Exposition. What an incredible achievement!
The Grand Palais was a resounding success from day one. It received rave reviews for its unique architecture combining steel, stone and glass. Its decorative elements were praised highly indeed too, with 40 artists having added statues, colourful mosaic and ceramic friezes, ornaments and monumental groups to the façades.
The original purpose of the Palais has never been a mystery, with its inscription dedicating it to la gloire de l’art français. And the building has been used to showcase the glory of French art many times over since the Paris Exposition of 1900. The annual Salon d’Automne is one such occasion. Perhaps you’ve heard of the scandal at the event in 1905, when outrageous images by the “wild beasts” (“fauves”) marked the birth of Fauvism.
The Grand Palais was repurposed as a military hospital during the First World War.
In 1975, the main part of the museum with the glass ceiling was listed as a historic monument. There’s no doubt that it has become emblematic of the Grand Palais. And is it any wonder with its volume of 450,000 m3 and its floor space of 13,500 m2!
More recently, the remit of the Palais has been extended from art exhibitions to book fairs, concerts and prestigious fashion events.
In 1964, the north wing was renovated to create gallery spaces, where works of art could be displayed first and foremost. Major exhibitions were centred around Renoir in 1985 (868,600 visitors) and Manet in 1983 (808,700 visitors).
The Grand Palais has been part of the Réunion des Musées Nationaux, the French cultural umbrella organisation for national museums, since 2005.
Chanel has been revealing its collections in the nave twice a year ever since 2006. The label’s breathtaking haute couture shows have even come to be one of the highlights of Paris Fashion Week. And there’s been a huge ice-skating rink inside the Grand Palais every Christmas since 2012.
We’re confident that the same exciting spirit will live on once all the renovation work is complete in 2024. Let’s just hope we’ll be able to explore the whole of the inside then too!