1798 Paris FR – Exposition Publique des Produits de l’Industrie Française

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As we saw above there were several early protagonists active in the early exhibition sector, but for the thirty years between 1798 and 1827 it proved to be Paris that set the agenda for future events.

These had their foundation in the 1790s festivals, but were less an entertainment and intended instead to rebuild a disrupted French industrial sector. The events were state-controlled expositions, though the nature of the state itself was routinely changing its composition across this period.

Nicolas François de Neufchâteau

Jean-Baptiste Marie de Piquet,
Marquess of Méjanes-Avèze

False start for French exhibition sector:

Nicolas François de Neufchâteau (1750-1828), the Minister of the Interior, believed the state needed to protect and encourage ‘the useful arts’. He appointed a French aristocrat and book collector, Jean-Baptiste Marie de Piquet, Marquess of Méjanes-Avèze (1729-1786), as his Commissioner for the manufacture of gobelins (tapestries), of sèvres (china) and of savonnerie (carpets).

The Marquess visited these trades’ establishments post-revolution and found them in a sorry state, many of the artisans had been starving for two years and the products they made had accumulated in their warehouses.

Château de Saint-Cloud, c1720

The Marquess realised that a stimulus was necessary. He proposed a three-day exhibition, at the Château de Saint-Cloud, presenting handicrafts and manufactured goods. This was approved and the chateau was filled with products. Many visitors were granted early access and they purchased enough to allow contractors to receive some cash for their efforts.

But, these were turbulent times and the show never formally opened because the originally planned public opening day (18th Fructidor or 4 Sep 1797) was the day that the Directory, a five-member committee, staged a coup d’état and placarded (or postered) Paris with its decree to expel noblemen.

The chateau was promptly annexed by a company of dragoons. The Marquess was one of those expelled, as were many of the patrons and sponsors of the exhibiting businesses.

1798, Paris Exposition:

Name:Exposition publique des produits de l’industrie française (1st)
Dates:17-21 September 1798, some reports suggested it ran until 1 Oct
Venue:Champs de Mar (or Maison d’Orsay? – both in 7th arrondissement, Paris)
Theme:To mark the anniversary of the Republic’s foundation, to protect and
encourage ‘the useful arts’ and deliver products ‘comparable to those of the British’
Exhibitors:110 exhibitors, it is suggested that Neufchâteau’s invitations were rather late
and this impacted on the number of exhibitors
Awards:23, the winners to be displayed within the temple to the Statue of Commerce
Visitors:No data – items on show were not offered for sale
Legacy:The jury declared ‘that the moment had come when France shall escape from
servitude to the industry of her neighbours’, certainly this was
the precursor to a series of French expositions
Season ticket (carte d’abonnement) for the exhibition
held at the Maison d’Orsay The design consists of a wall monument bearing the text, with attributes of mythological figures, and representations of music.
(Source: waddesdon.org.uk)

Progress was thus delayed for a year. The Marquess successfully lobbied to be removed from the proscribed list. He was thus back to manage his event in the French Republic’s year VII, or 1798.

It was said by some sources to be held at Maison d’Orsay, 667, rue de Varenne, 75007 Paris, but is more often suggested that it was at the Champs de Mar, thus still in the seventh arrondissement but 1.6km away. The latter is the site used for Napoléon ’s triumphant return from his Italian campaigns, so we nudge towards this as the more likely venue.

For this event two catalogues were issued. The first printed in Paris by the Imprimérie de la République, and consisted of 24 pages.  A second issue, expanded to 30 pages, was issued at Grenoble by J Allier. Its title page read as follows:

EXPOSITION PUBLIQUE DES PRODUITS DE L’INDUSTRIE. Première exposition publique des produits de l’industrie française. Catalogue des produits industriels qui ont été exposés au Champs-de-Mars pendant les trois derniers jours complémentaires de l’An VI. [Note: Further support for Champs de Mars.]

This second event (the one claimed as the first modern expo) was proposed by Neufchâteau to follow on from the celebrations of Napoléon ’s victories in Italy, which had led to highly lucrative plunder. Its objective is translated as to offer a panorama of the production of various branches of industry with a view to their emulation.

Various authorities claim that it was this event, and its relatively minor success, was the ‘first modern expo’. The criterion for this claim was that it was the first exhibition with an instructional rationale, but surely the RSA event in 1761 had this goal too?

The Marquess promptly appointed the architect, Jean-François-Thérèse Chalgrin (1739-1811), as one of his design team, Chalgrin would later design the Arc de Triomphe.

The event was called L’Exposition Publique des Produits de l’Industrie Française (the Public Exhibition of French Industrial Products) and was timed to mark the anniversary of the foundation of the Republic.

It was opened, following a grand procession, by Minister Neufchâteau who stated ‘The French have surprised Europe with the rapidity of their military exploits, and must advance with the same ardour on the paths of commerce…’ (Greenhalgh, 1988, p.5).

Neufchâteau was also at pains to glorify the dignity of labour. Greenhalgh went on to describe ‘A plethora of activity filled the Champs de Mars; there were military parades, splendid halls, firework displays and dozens of official sideshows and stalls on the edge of the site. The strange combination of carnival and ceremony, of circus and museum, of popularism and elitism which typified the Expositions Universelles…

The 1798 exhibition site showing
the Temple, the 68 porticos
and the hint of a Montgolfier balloon

At its heart was a ‘Temple of Industry’, which consisted of Doric columns around a statue of ‘Commerce’, The winning entrants were to be displayed in the ‘Temple of Industry’ that was completed during the show. This placing of winners in a ‘temple’ harks back to the ‘Festival of the Supreme Being’, the citizens were being asked to ‘worship’ modern invention rather than ancient deities and relics.

Arrayed around the temple was a square formed by sixty-eight porticos or arcades holding 110 inventors and industrialists, most of the exhibitors were from Paris and the Seine region. They presented a range of merchandise that, given the political environment, was bizarrely luxurious even aristocratic. These did include scientific equipment, printing equipment, surgical instruments, weapons and chemical products, but also furniture and marquetery, silks, leatherwear and textiles, china and glassware, clocks and watches…

The products were not offered for sale, given its ‘instructional’ objectives. Awards were based on that of the Academy of Art, to recognise the ‘engines’ or industrial ‘soldiers’ of the economy.

A committee, of nine distinguished men was drawn from the sciences and arts, from the Institut de France and from agricultural and mining societies. They issued twenty-threee awards, twelve of these were gold.

Breguet’s award-winning
eight-day Metronome Clock

The twenty-three prizewinners ranged from the publishers Didit and Herhan, Breguet clocks, a steel fabricator, inventors of a precision balance, Conté coloured crayons (these had been developed by mixing clay and graphite due to a graphite shortage after the Napoleonic Wars). Others included an edition of Virgil and a Kutsch machine that sought to familiarise citizens with the new metric system that had, three years earlier, introduced metres, grams and litres (Note: the Metric system was also promoted much later at the Paris 1867 exhibition and adopted as the global standard for science in 1875).

The French government indicated an unhealthy obsession when in its call for prize entrants it prompted them to deliver products ‘comparable to those of British industry’. The jury declared ‘that the moment had come when France shall escape from servitude to the industry of her neighbours’.

Neufchâteau summarised at the end of the event, ‘this is but our first campaign, and it has been a campaign disastrous to the interests of English industry. Our manufactures are arsenals most fatal to the power of the British’. But Neufchâteau was removed from his ministerial role by the Directory in June 1799, then in turn, by November, Napoléon terminated the Directory and formed a Consulate.

This launched a century of Franco-British exhibition ‘wars’, or more diplomatically of Franco-British competitions. Between 1801 and 1849 France, in its various forms, held ten Exposition Universelle, each new event launched with ever more ambition.

Paxton’s sketch of the Crystal Palace

Construction of the Eiffel Tower

London’s 1851 Great Exhibition seized the initiative in this squabble, the Eiffel Tower was to be an effective and long-lasting riposte.

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