Petit Palais history
Petit Palais was created, like its neighbors the Grand Palai and Pont Alexander III, for the Universal Exposition of 1900.
The planning for the 1900’s World Exposition began quickly after the ending of the 1889 World Exposition in Paris, during which the Eiffel tower became a huge success. In order to solidify the position of France as the artistic world leader, something new and spectacular had to be built for the new exposition.
After an architectural competition, the main plan for the world expo was drawn. It included connecting the Champs-Elysées and the Esplanade des Invalides with a new bridge and two new structures, one of them being the Petit Palais.
The Petit Palais was built to serve as a permanent gallery of painting and sculpture and to serve as a host for temporary exhibitions. Despite its inferiority in size compared to the Grand Palais, contemporary critics noted that the Petit Palais played a role of equal importance, when it came to the overall success of the Exhibition.
Built in a hurry
Just like the bridge over Seine, Pont Alexander, and the Grand Palais – Petit Palais was built in a rush. In 3 years time, the place had gone from a large construction site to the beautiful Petit Palais one can see today.
The chief architect of Petit Palais was Charles-Louis Girault. He found his inspiration mainly in eighteenth century French architecture, although the building itself mixes a lot of different styles, which is why many define the style as “eclectic”.
Eclecticism is simply a style which combines influences from a multitude of other styles. An evidence of this is the arch entrance and the many pillars, which is inspired by Greek and Roman architecture.
In early 21st century, the Petit Palais underwent some serious restoration work. After being closed for more than four years due to the restoration work, the Petit Palais today stands as shining as ever.
A sign of the popularity of the Petit Palais is the fact that it has served as a model for several other public buildings, such as the Royal Museum for Central Africa near Brussels and the Museo de Bellas Artes in Santiago.
Why visit Petit Palais ?
A main feature of the outside of the Petit Palais is its beautiful main gate, also known as the Golden Gate. Visitors paying a closer look at the top of the gate will see a small ship sailing on the waves. This ship is actually a part of the Parisian coat of arms and above the ship you can read the Latin phrase “Fluctuat nec mergitur”. This is the city motto, which refers to its coat of arms, and translates to “it is beaten by the waves without being sunk”.
A hidden oasis
While the outside of Petit Palais is certainly impressive, many visitors head here to enjoy what’s on the inside. One major feature of the Petit Palais, both during the Exposition and today, is its inner courtyard.
The courtyard houses a smaller garden and its purpose was to provide a peaceful atmosphere away from the crowded city. The main reason the Petit Palais was built was however not to provide a garden, but to host a series of French art exhibitions.
Museum of Fine Arts
Another of the Petit Palais’s main functions is to serve as the Musée des Beaux-Arts, the Museum of Fine Arts. The museum is home to an impressive array of artwork spanning several centuries.
The museum is divided into several sections including the Dutuit Collection, consisting of medieval and renaissance paintings and drawings and a collection of 18th century furniture called the Tuck Collection. Some people call the Petit Palais “the mini Louvre – but without the crowds”.
Petit Palais location
Petit Palais is located in the 8th arrondissement. As Petit Palais is situated in between Champs Elysées and Esplanade des Invalides, in the heart of Paris, it is easily accessible on foot or by subway. For the exact location of Petit Palais, check out the Location Map to the right.
For the exact location of the Panthéon, check out the location map to the right.