The listed rooms are placed at opposite ends of the palace’s hall of honor. These two rooms illustrate the main aspects of the civilizations of Africa and Asia.
Dedicated to the French African colonies’ intellectual and artistic contributions to France, this salon was a used as a reception room by Paul Reynaud, then Minister of the Colonies.
The design and decoration of the room was entrusted to Jacques-Émile Ruhlmann (1879-1933) who placed large, roomy “elephant” armchairs covered in brown and ebony morocco leather as well as a novel model of tripod chairs made of Makassar ebony and brown morocco leather. The minister’s desk combines ebony with shagreen (fish skin used as leather) and incrustations of ivory fillets on the desktop. All these precious and exotic materials enhanced the site’s prestige while highlighting products brought back from the colonies.
The bronze busts presented in showcases or on stands were the work of artists such as Anna Quinquaud or Gaston Broquet and represent the production of colonial academic artists of the period.
The room’s frescoes were painted by Louis Bouquet (1885-1952) and refer to the contributions of Sub-Saharan and North Africa to France. The esthetic choices of the artist derive from the stereotyped view in vogue in the 1930s that associated a so-called “black” Africa with the body, nudity and dance. The main panel shows the artistic union of an African muse and Apollo playing a lyre in a luxuriant natural setting. In the background, the red walls recall Djenné, the ancient capital of Mali, which also inspired the West African pavilion at the Colonial Exposition. The “natural” and “childlike” aspect of black populations belongs to a set of stereotypes that were to last still longer.
North Africa, however, is seen from the angle of religion and the scientific or artistic contributions of Arab-Muslim civilization. Against a background of Moorish architecture representations of philosophy, mathematics, medicine, astronomy, architecture, music and calligraphy are depicted.
This salon served as a reception room for Marshall Lyautey, General Commissioner of the Colonial Exposition. It was dedicated to the Asian colonies’ intellectual and artistic contributions.
Le salon ovale de Paul Reynaud, photo Lorenzö, © Palais de la Porte Dorée
The theme of the room’s fresco is the arts, religions and economic contributions of Asia. Painted by André and Ivanna Lemaître, it is the companion piece to the fresco in the Paul Reynaud room. The majority of the motifs are inspired by Hindu or Buddhist religious writings or Confucian thought. The main panel thus assembles the three great Asian religions: the Hindu god Krishna playing the flute in the forest, a representation of the Buddha in meditation and Confucius teaching his disciples. The adjacent representations of the Arts (dance, music, sculpture), and the natural elements (Earth, Fire and Water) and the mother of arts Kwan-Yin born in a lotus flower surround a peaceful family, placed behind the desk. The various scenes are treated in a decorative manner: the flowing curves of the bodies and the pastel colors stand out against a golden ochre background.
The decoration of the room, the trim and part of the furniture were ordered from the cabinetmaker Eugène Printz (1889-1948). He supplied the two large doors of Gabonese palm wood called “patawa”, skirting boards for the whole room, two three-door cabinets fitted into the fresco and marquetry flooring made from three different types of colonial wood, including mahogany. He created lacquered wood and velvet seats especially for the desk and built lamps whose shape recalls that of the floor lamps in the palace’s hall of honor.