Located in the heart of Paris on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, the Grand Palais is the iconic monument of the Rmn-GP. Built for the Universal Exhibition in 1900 and dedicated “by the French Republic to the glory of French art”, it was designated as a historic monument in 2000.
The Grand Palais:
– 40 events staged every year
– 2 million visitors annually
– 72,000 m2 gross floor space
– 13,500 m2 floor area in the Nave, with the largest glass roof in Europe
– 6,000 tonnes of steel in the construction of the Nave: it has more steel than the whole Eiffel Tower,
and used 60 tonnes of “mignonette” green paint
– 200,000 tonnes of stones
Today the Grand Palais is over 100 years old, and take it from us, plenty of things have happened in a century! Spend some time tracing the life of the monument through the 20th century in the timeline below:
What can we do to make the Universal Exhibition of 1900 a memorable one? A competition is launched to gather ideas and one project emerges from all the submitted plans (each one crazier than the next): to cut through a new avenue to link the Champs-Élysées with the Esplanade des Invalides (now Avenue Winston-Churchill) and build a bridge over the Seine (now Pont Alexandre III). As simple as that!
Now the architectural competition can begin. A couple of candidates propose building two palaces for fine arts along the new avenue, the Grand and Petit Palais which now face each other.
No design stands out from the rest, so the decision is taken that is should be a collaboration, inspired by several projects:
– The main part of the Grand Palais (looking onto what is now Avenue Winston-Churchill) is assigned to the architect Henri Deglane
– The middle section (including the Salon d’Honneur) goes to Albert Louvet
– The rear section, the current Palais de la Decouverte, goes to Albert Thomas.
But, like the Three Musketeers, there are actually four men involved in building the Grand Palais, since Charles Girault is tasked with coordinating the entire project, as well as building the Petit Palais.
Work begins on the Grand Palais, with just three years to complete this mammoth construction project. Will they be able to meet the deadlines? In 1900 when 1,500 workers are still working hard to build the edifice, the suspense is nerve-wracking. Despite some nasty surprises and delays, the monument opens its doors in time for the Universal Exhibition. No mean feat!
The Grand Palais is a resounding success, with praise for its exceptional architectural blend of steel, stone and glass. The monument’s decorative work is lauded as well: it is the work of some 40 contemporary artists who embellish the facades with statues, polychrome friezes in mosaic and ceramic, ornaments and monumental groups. The Grand Palais’ blend of Baroque and Classicism conveys an impressive sense of modernity. Inside, the stairway of honour is universally acclaimed on account of its elegant iron scrollwork and green porphyry columns.
Once the architectural feat is complete, the Grand Palais can make its entrance into the 20th century. It marks the beginning of another equally fascinating story …
The walls are still reverberating with the scandal of the Salon d’Automne! The bold colour statements of Matisse, Braque and Derain upset conservative folk, and there is the famous episode of the “wild beast cage”, giving Fauvism its name.
Surprisingly, during the First World War, the Grand Palais is turned into a military hospital. It’s hard to believe your eyes, the sight of all these young soldiers: the injured ones, recuperating in the galleries, and convalescents walking around the Nave before returning to battle.
Important consolidation work is carried out, due to the falling level of the water table in Paris.
23 August 1944
While Paris celebrates the Liberation, a fire breaks out in the Grand Palais: the flames destroy the metal roof space and warp the pillars in the Nave. Fortunately there are no casualties.
The Nave is listed as a historic monument.
A slight digression here, if we may, for it fills us with pride. The Nave is emblematic of the monument: 450,000 m3 air volume, 13,500 m2 floor area, and 60 tonnes of paint go into creating an aerial vault made of glass which soars into the vastness of the sky. It really is worth a look.
A rivet falls out during the exhibition “Design, Mirror of the Century, a reminder of the poor state of the structure that supports the glass roof. As a precaution, the Nave is closed until 2005.
The whole monument is finally given historic monument status, allowing the State to give the green light to fund an extensive restructuring project for the Nave.
The first phase of the reconstruction and restoration work gets under way: consolidation of the foundations, repair of the steel frame in the Nave and the glass roof, repair of the roof,and restoration of Récipon’s quadrigas.
Shortly afterwards plans are made to restore the facade. Something tells us this Grand Palais is popular!
2008 to the present day
A major programme of refurbishment and embellishment gets under way to restore and develop the monument. It is complicated to an extent, as new spaces are needed for the many events taking place and improved visitor facilities:
– Alexandre III Rotunda: restored in 2010, it provides access mainly to the Mini Palais restaurant and MK2 Grand Palais cinema, as well as leading directly to the Nave.
– The Queen’s Rotunda is now a magnificent reception area reserved for our partners.
– The South-East Loggia has also been refurbished. Great for summer evenings!
– The South-East Gallery: it has a 700 m2 floor area and a glass ceiling 11 metres high. We celebrate its opening in 2011 with the exhibition “Game Story. A History of Video Games”.
– The Salon d’Honneur reopens again in spring 2012 with performances by the Comédie-Française. An opening night in the Grand Palais!
Rmn – Grand Palais
254/256 rue de Bercy
75577 Paris CEDEX 12