Porte Monumentale  

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Porte Monumentale at the 1900 Exposition Universelle
Porte Monumentale at the 1900 Exposition Universelle

"In late August 1900, when Haeckel travelled from Jena to Java, he stopped briefly in Paris to visit the World Fair where he walked through one of his radiolarians. The French architect René Binet had used Haeckel’s images of the microscopic sea creatures as an inspiration for the Porte Monumentale, the huge metal entrance gate that he had designed for the fair. In the previous year Binet had written to Haeckel that ‘everything about it’ – from the smallest detail to the general design – ‘has been inspired by your studies.’ The fair made Art Nouveau famous across the world, and almost 50 million visitors walked through Haeckel’s magnified radiolarian. Binet himself later published a book called Esquisses Décoratives (Decorative Sketches) which showed how Haeckel’s illustrations could be translated into interior decoration. Tropical jellyfish became lamps, single-celled organisms transmuted into light switches and microscopic views of cell tissues turned into wallpaper patterns. Architects and designers, Binet urged, should ‘turn to the great laboratory of Nature’."--The Invention of Nature (2015) by Andrea Wulf

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The Porte Monumentale de Paris (Gateway to Paris), located on the Place de la Concorde, was the main entrance of the Exposition Universelle. The architect of the monument overall was René Binet, although many others contributed to the constituent parts. His overall design was inspired by the biological studies of Ernst Haeckel. It was composed of towering polychrome ceramic decoration in Byzantine motifs, crowned by a statue 6.5 m high called La Parisienne. Unlike classical statues, she was dressed in modern Paris fashion. La Parisienne was executed by sculptor Paul Moreau-Vauthier who collaborated with Paris' pre-eminiment haute couturier of the day, Jeanne Paquin, who designed the figure's fashionable attire. Below the statue was a sculptural prow of a boat, the symbol of Paris, and friezes depicting the workers who built the Exposition. The central arch was flanked by two slender, candle-like towers, resembling minarets. The gateway was brightly illuminated at night by 3,200 light bulbs and an additional forty arc lamps. Forty thousand visitors an hour could pass beneath the arch to approach the twenty-six ticket booths. Above the ticket booth windows, the names of provincial cities were inscribed, symbolically enacting a hierarchical relation between Paris and the provinces.

The structure of the entrance tower as a whole was adorned with Byzantine motifs and Persian ceramic ornamentation, but the true inspiration behind the piece was not of cultural background. Binet sought inspiration from science, tucking the vertebrae of a dinosaur, the cells of a beehive, rams, peacocks, and poppies into the design alongside other animalistic stimuli.

The Gateway, like the Exposition buildings, was intended to be temporary, and was demolished as soon as the Exposition was finished. The ceramic frieze depicting the workers of the Exposition was designed by Anatole Guillot, an academic sculptor. The workers frieze was preserved by the head of the ceramics firm that made it, Émile Müller, and moved to what is now Parc Müller in the town of Breuillet, Essonne. The workers were situated above a frieze of animals designed by sculptor Paul Jouve and executed by ceramicist Alexandre Bigot.

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