Kodak Moments: Images from the Exposition Universelle of 1900Deirdre E. Lawrence
Paris is very much on our minds today in the aftermath of terrorist attacks. Almost universally acknowledged as one of the great art centers, any threat to Paris is seen as a threat to the cultural legacy of the entire world. Historically, Paris hosted several expositions culminating in the spectacular 1900 Universelle Fair, these fairs contributing to its reputation as the capital of modernity. Many of these achievements left a permanent mark on the city such as the Eiffel Tower, built for the 1889 exposition.
Entitled Paris: Capital of the Civilized World, the 1900 Exposition Universelle was the largest fair up to that time, attracting an international audience of over 50 million visitors. Held from April to November 1900, the fair offered 210 pavilions occupying approximately a fourth of Paris. Visitors viewed over 7,000 exhibits dispersed in pavilions and sites around the fairgrounds and arranged in other areas around Paris. The sights at the fairgrounds epitomized the optimistic hopes, international rivalries, and general anxiety felt in the period before the outbreak of the First World War in 1914.
Today we can envision the Exposition through images taken or collected by William Henry Goodyear, the Brooklyn Museum's first curator of fine arts. Born in 1846 in New Haven, Connecticut, he was the son of Charles Goodyear, the inventor of the vulcanization process of rubber. After attending Yale University in the 1860's, Goodyear began a career as a teacher and earned a solid reputation as an architectural and art historian. He wrote several books most notably, A History of Art, reportedly the first art history book published in America to be illustrated by photographs instead of engravings.
Appointed the first curator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 1881, he then came to the Brooklyn Museum in 1890. Goodyear's responsibilities at the Brooklyn Museum were far-reaching and included overseeing the development and installation of the Museum's growing collections including American and European paintings, ancient art, casts of Classical and Renaissance art, and other art collections. Goodyear also initiated an illustrated lecture series on the history of art, which led to the development of the Museum's lantern slide collection.
The lantern slide is a transparent image magnified and projected onto a surface through the use of a “magic lantern”. An early form of image projection dating back to the 17th century, magic lanterns offered a new way to project photographic images for a larger audience. Goodyear built Brooklyn's lantern slide collection with 506 images of the Paris Exposition he took or collected from photographers Joseph Hawkes and John McKechnie, also in attendance at the exposition. Hawkes hand-colored many of these images for a more realistic and vibrant effect. Knowing that commercial photographers would focus on the less “exotic” parts of the fair, Goodyear wanted to take his own photographs so as to include “anthropology exhibits of various and barbaric tribes and of countries like Siberia.” 240 have been digitized and are available on the Museum's website. Today Brooklyn's total lantern slide collection consists of over 11,000 images documenting sites around the world, many of which are no longer extant or changed by the ravages of time.
Now let's return to Paris and take a look back at what Goodyear saw. In general expositions had two themes: celebration of new technology as a symbol of human progress and a fascination with the exotic. The Exposition was located in the center of Paris with buildings and fair grounds divided into eight sections. The site was huge and could take weeks for visitors to fully roam around and see all the buildings and displays. Most of the buildings and statuary were intended to be temporary and were built on a framework of wood and covered with plaster of Paris, eventually to be demolished or recycled.
This entrance welcomed the visitor to view exhibits and displays set up by several countries including France, the United States, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Russia, Scandinavia, Austria and Great Britain and its colonies. The monumental gateway was in itself an architectural revelation. Designed as three large arches it supported a gilded cupula painted in blue, green and gold, mixing ideas about advances in society with elements of Moorish, Mughal, Persian, and Byzantine styles. The sides of the arches were decorated in relief showing the workers of the world displaying the fruits of their industry.
Scientific and technological advances, such as electricity, were a key feature of the exposition. Throughout the exposition buildings lit up at night for all to admire. This new technology was a major change from gas lighting and reinforced the idea of Paris as the city of light and main event leading to a new century and all that was to come.
Two hundred and forty lantern slides of the Paris Exposition are available for viewing online at the Brooklyn Museum's Goodyear Archival Collection.
About the Author
Deirdre E. Lawrence is the Principal Librarian at the Brooklyn Museum where,since 1983, she has worked to establish the Museum Archives and to implement many projects to preserve and make accessible the Museum's research collections. Lawrence has worked on many collaborative projects including the New York Art Resources Consortium, and with the Brooklyn Historical Society, the Brooklyn Public Library and Pratt Institute the Brooklyn Visual Heritage project which is an online resource showcasing historical photographs of Brooklyn drawn from these respective collections.
She has curated and co-curated exhibitions at the Brooklyn Museum and elsewhere including Artists Books (2000) and Points of Departure: Treasures of Japan from the Brooklyn Museum (2014).