Monumental and solemn, the Forum, former Salle des fêtes, constitutes the heart of the building. With a ceiling 27 meters high and a floor area of 900m2, it was used to celebrate colonial policy with official receptions and events during the International Exposition.
Inspired by the architecture of the palaces of the Maghreb, Albert Laprade designed a square hall, surrounded by a gallery. A magnificent tiered ceiling filters the light without revealing where it comes from. This structure, inspired by the architecture of Asian pagodas, is the only source of natural light.
Fresques du Forum, photo Cyril Sancereau © Palais de la Porte Dorée
The room’s walls are entirely decorated with frescoes by Pierre Ducos de la Haille (1886-1972) and his students from the Paris School of Fine Arts (École des Beaux Arts). Specialized in monumental art, this artist designed an iconographic ensemble illustrating France’s influence in the world. This is a companion piece to Janniot’s bas-reliefs outside, devoted to the colonies’ economic contributions to France. With its warm tones and a profusion of vegetation and caravels – this detail caused him criticism for putting too much stress on the economic aspect of the colonial enterprise –, Pierre Ducos de la Haille’s composition features a series of figures with elongated bodies and sculptural muscles, in harmony with the style of monumental frescoes at their height in the 1930s.
Today the central area is covered with wood flooring, but the floor was originally a few steps lower and covered in mosaics with more sober patterns using Dogon or Indian motifs such as the swastika, a solar symbol that was later subverted by the Nazis to become the emblem of their regime.
The mosaics on the floor of the gallery surrounding the hall follow the style of ceramists such Emile Muller and Alexandre Bigot who worked during the Universal Expositions of 1889 and 1890 and decorated the facades of buildings in Paris. The themes of these motifs are derived from African and Asian mythology: dancing silhouettes of helmeted warriors, Buddhist elephants, serpent-dragons, Vishnu’s circle of fire, signs of longevity, dragons and peacocks that decorate the carpets of Annam.