Thursday, July 3, 2014

Sublime Beauty of Paris' Petit Palais

Wikipedia sums it up: The Petit Palais (small palace) is an art museum in the 8th arrondissement of Paris, France. It was built for the 1900 Exposition Universelle; it now houses the City of Paris Museum of Fine Arts (Musée des beaux-arts de la ville de Paris). Located near the Champs-Élysées, it faces one side of the Grand Palais (big palace), also built for the 1900 exhibition.

What Wikipedia doesn’t mention is its breathtaking beauty.

During my 2011 Paris visit, I sat on the concrete steps of the Petit Palais for a half hour or so for the sole purpose of gazing at the beautiful façade of the Grand Palais. Verdigris ribs arch through blue-green curved glass to form a roof that resembles sky. Sculpted bronze horsemen hover at the corners of this sky. Below, more than thirty pillars stretch the edges of the building from the Seine River almost to the Champs-Elysees. Walking inside under the glass sky of the Grand Palais, I could picture industrial exhibits (in 2011, bicycles, but airplanes could fit) filling the massive warehouse-like space. But the interior seemed more utilitarian, compared with the exterior. In 2011, as I sat with my back to the Petit Palais, I shed a few tears over the sheer beauty of the front of the Grand Palais.

In 2014, my back was to the Grand Palais as I entered the Petit Palais, whose exterior is also ornate, but whose interior inspired more tears—and gasps of delight. No warehouse feel here! After purchasing tickets for the exposition about the 1900 World’s Fair that both palaces were built for, we headed straight through the garden to the café for lunch. This lush green garden was guarded by golden angels on high, and we took pictures a-plenty of the statuary overlooking palm trees and ponds.

After lunch when we re-entered Petit Palais’ grand hall, my feet simply stopped, my jaw dropped, and my eyes, drawn to the ceiling, popped. Frescoes and friezes on the ceiling mesmerized me. Overwhelmed by grandeur, I trembled as I aimed my camera. My photos cannot capture the magnificent scale, artistry and craftsmanship, rich colors, swooping arches, gracefully curved panels and windows. In a bright, airy environment, one’s pupils are supposed to narrow, but I felt mine widen to try to take in the extraordinary beauty.

The exhibit we saw, Paris 1900, La Ville Spectacle, celebrated the flourishing arts of Paris at the dawn of the 20th century. What came to be known as La Belle Époque (the beautiful era, from about 1870 to the start of World War I in 1914), was in full swing in 1900. With this World’s Fair in an optimistic period of peace, Paris positioned itself as the pinnacle of fashion, futuristic technology, gastronomy, entertainment, and all arts genres. Although I enjoyed exhibits of early silent movies and creative examples of Realism, Symbolism, Impressionism, and Art Nouveau, for me, the Petit Palais itself was the sublime star of the show.  

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