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2/ The Competition

The competition was for the design of the two palaces: the Grand and the Petit Palais, although applicants had the choice of designing only one of the two, if they so wished.

‘It is preferable to avoid overly dense or compact constructions and the edifice should blend into its surroundings (a green space should surround the Palaces).’

The proposals were presented to the public at the Palais de l’Industrie.

Architectes réunis autour des plan du grand PalaisArchitects gathered around a blueprint
for the Grand Palais
Georges Lavergne

During the month of July 1896, the jury elected to preside over this architecture competition met five times, making a reduced selection of proposals at each sitting. Charles Garnier, architect of the Opéra de Paris and member of the Société des Artistes Français, was particularly committed to the project.


There were now 9 projects in the running. A decision was made to select those architects with the most audacious projects and to group them together, each with a specific section of the project to design, under the careful coordination of a more experienced architect.

Contrary to popular belief, this ensemble of buildings was designed and built to last.

The project was also an example of Paris’s ambitious urban planning policies: the result was a new and magnificent urban scape, encompassing the Champs-Élysées and the Esplanade des Invalides.


Plan du Palais de l'industrie et du futur Grand PalaisBlueprint of the Palais de l'Industrie - Société des Artistes Français Archive

The architects selected for the project were all members of the Société des Artistes Français.

Henri-Adolphe Deglane was entrusted with the design and construction of the main building on the new avenue, and the design of the large and beautiful nave, a technical feat for that time, which would contribute to his renown.

Louis Albert Louvet was entrusted with the design of the middle section of the Palais, and in particular the main staircase, for which the architect’s numerous and impressive designs have been preserved in the archives of the Grand Palais.

Albert-Théophile Thomas was to design the rear section (the part that has housed the Palais de la Découverte since 1937). Its design was more classical, and was to be made of stone.

Charles-Louis Girault, an experienced architect, was entrusted with the mission of coordinating the entire project and overseeing the design and construction of the Petit Palais.

It is also worth noting that the architects Joseph Cassien-Bernard and Gaston Cousin, also members of the Société des Artistes Français were given the task of designing the Pont Alexandre III (bridge). This was an innovative project as it featured the first metal arch crossing the river in a single span. (The engineers on the project were Amédée d’Alby and Louis Jean Resal).

THOMAS concevra la partie postérieure (partie qui abrite depuis 1937 le Palais de la Découverte), plus classique, réalisée en pierres de taille.

GIRAULT, architecte expérimenté, coordonnera l’ensemble de ce travail et réalisera en plus l’étude et la construction du Petit Palais.

Notons également que les architectes CASSIEN-BERNARD et COUSIN, eux aussi sociétaires des ARTISTES FRANÇAIS, sont chargés de l’étude du Pont Alexandre III. C’est aussi un projet novateur: en effet c’est le premier arc métallique franchissant le fleuve d’un seul jet.(avec ALBY et RESAL ingénieurs)

The Grand Palais is a building of 40,000 m2,
entirely devoted to the exhibition of the arts.

In 1901, just after the Exposition Universelle, the Salon des Artistes Français received from the French State the mission of organizing an annual fine arts exhibition.

Furthermore, the venue was to host a renowned horse race every year. Therefore, access ramps and a paddock for the horses were to be integrated into the design.

Many other artists, many of whom were members of the Société, were called upon to decorate the Palais with their works. These included sculptors, painters, and mosaic artists, amongst others: Barrias, Dalou, Falguière, Fremiet, Recipon, Steiner, Astruc, Besnard, Cormon, Fournier, Himbert, Roll, etc.


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