Built by Albert Laprade for the Colonial Exposition of 1931, this monument is one of the most representative of the Art Deco style. An official palace, laden with symbols, it was intended to celebrate the glory of the French colonial model, in the tradition of the universal expositions of the 19th century, followed by the colonial expositions of the early 20th century.

A Original Synthesis

The only edifice destined to survive the Colonial Exposition of 1931, the Porte Dorée palace was designed to perpetuate the theme conveyed by the exposition. Its intention was to showcase a summary of all that the empire had to offer historically, artistically and economically in order to incite visitors to invest in the products brought back from the colonies, or even to move overseas.

For this, the architect Albert Laprade imagined a synthesis of the contemporary Art Deco style, classical French architecture and elements freely inspired by the art of the colonies.

For the facade, he reverted to the classical monumentality of the Louvre colonnade as well as to the Ionic temples of Antiquity and added an exceptionally large sculpted frieze. He employed the symmetrical plan of Moroccan palaces built around a large central patio surrounded by galleries. The clean geometric lines of the building, typical of the Art Deco style, are enlivened by a decor featuring the colonies. The entire empire is invited to this museum-palace, for contrary to the various pavilions of the Colonial Exposition no architectural style predominates or is clearly identifiable. 

Albert Laprade

Albert Laprade was born in 1883 and died in 1978. After his studies at the École Nationale des Beaux-Arts de Paris (School of Fine Arts), he worked in Morocco. At the request of Hubert Lyautey, Resident General of the French protectorate, he designed what was called the “new native town of Casablanca”, and following that he completed the Protectorate Residence in Rabat, according to very modern models for the period. In 1920, he created his own agency.

He obtained the contract to build the Palais des Colonies and the Moroccan pavilion for the Colonial Exposition of 1931. Among his many projects between the two wars, we may cite the Cuban student home at the Cité Universitaire de Paris and the French embassy in Ankara. For the International Exposition of 1937, he built the monument to peace on the place du Trocadéro. 
After the war, he designed industrial buildings and participated notably in the renovation of the Renault factories in Boulogne-Billancourt. 

An Art Deco Style Palace

Un palais de style Art Déco

Le salon ovale de Paul Reynaud © Lorenzö, Palais de la Porte Dorée

The Porte Dorée palace is a unique example of the art of the 1930s. If the painted décor is closer to the academic and colonial styles, the decorative elements (furniture of the salons, light fixtures, wrought iron) led the way for the stylistic and technical innovations of the Art Deco style.

The Art Deco movement came into its own in 1925 at the International Exposition of Decorative Arts that was to give it its name. France was in the forefront in this return to pure geometrical lines. The style appears as an introduction of geometric shapes to the Art Nouveau floral motifs of the beginning of the century, softened by exotic references and the use of precious materials. 

Following the wishes of Marshall Lyautey and the architect Albert Laprade, the palace project brought together the major figures of Art Deco and even a pioneer of the modernist style in the person of Jean Prouvé.

The Artists Who Decorated the Palace

Eugène Printz (1889-1948)

 
bureau salon lyautey

Bureau du salon Lyautey, photo Lorenzö © Palais de la Porte Dorée

Son of a cabinetmaker on the Faubourg Saint-Antoine in Paris, Eugène Printz began by making copies of antique furniture. In the 1920s, he undertook his own research and exhibited works at the Exposition of Decorative Arts in 1925.
Soon he received prestigious private orders and official commissions for the Lyautey Room at the Museum of the Colonies (1931) and for the ocean liner Normandie (1935). He participated in the various fairs and the International Exposition of 1937 (decorative artists pavilion and lighting pavilion).

His furniture is appreciated for its audacious style combining curves and straight lines. 

Edgar Brandt (1880-1960)

At the beginning of the 20th century, Edgar Brandt was recognized for his wrought ironwork: fittings for private townhouses and jewelry. The growing taste for this technique brought him international renown. At the International Exposition of Decorative Arts he worked with Ruhlmann on the private mansion of a rich collector and presented his key work, a six-paneled screen called L’Oasis (The Oasis), on his own stand on the Esplanade des Invalides. At first rooted in floral esthetics, he evolved after 1925 towards increasingly geometric shapes. He is considered to be the initiator of Art Deco-style wrought iron. 

Jacques-Emile Rulhmann (1879-1933)

 

Jacques-Emile Rulhmann

Le salon ovale de Paul Reynaud, photo Lorenzö © Palais de la Porte Dorée

The son of a family of construction industrialists, Jacques-Emile Rulhmann founded the cabinetmaking workshops Ruhlmann et Laurent in 1917, for which he designed his own models. He encountered great success during the International Exposition of Decorative Arts of 1925 for the decoration of the mansion of a rich collector.

He is seen as a master of the Art Deco style, following in the tradition of the great French cabinetmakers, celebrated for his technical perfection and his use of rare woods such as ebony. He received prestigious private orders, but also official commissions: decors for the ocean liner Ile de France (1927), the Paris Chamber of Commerce (1929) and the Reynaud room at the Museum of the Colonies (1931). 

Raymond Subes (1891-1970)

 
Raymond Subes

Luminaire du hall d'accueil. Photo Lorenzö, © Palais de la Porte Dorée

After studying at the École Boulle and the École des Arts décoratifs (School of Decorative Arts), Raymond Subes trained with the metal craftsman Émile Robert. He participated in expositions of decorative arts and created the wrought ironwork for the ocean liners Ile-de-France, Atlantique, Normandie, Liberty and France. In collaboration with various architects, he designed wrought ironwork for public buildings (Banque de France, Hôtel de Ville in Reims...) but also for religious ones (the church of the Saint-Esprit or the door of the Rouen Cathedral, one of his masterpieces). For the Palais des Colonies, in 1931, he created the lighting fixtures that line the hall today as well of the grillwork on the entresol overlooking the main entrance.

Jean Dunand (1877-1942)

Jean Dunand trained at the School of Industrial Arts in Geneva. In 1896, thanks to a scholarship, he moved to Paris. He then specialized under the sculptor Jean Dampt (1853-1946), in working metal leaf: a type of brass-work known as “dinanderie”. In 1912, he met the Japanese master Sugawara who initiated him in a lacquer technique: a decorative technique using latex resins. He regularly worked with the decorators Printz and Ruhlmann and participated in the decoration of the ocean liners Ile de France, Atlantique and Normandie. In 1931, he created a set of lacquer panels with animal and plant decors for the library of the museum of the Colonies that are now dispersed.