One assumes Paris of the Belle Époque was vastly different than today. Yet, there are remarkable parallels between now and then, not least the immense wealth and opulence of the richest of the rich.
The special exhibit “Paris 1900: City of Entertainment” at the Portland Art Museum takes visitors back to this glamorous era between the end of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871, when France was humiliated by its defeat and the enemy’s occupation of Paris, and the start of the Great War, also known as the First World War, in 1914.
The Belle Époque (Beautiful Era in English) was perhaps unlike any other era in Western history. It was a time when everything — art, society, politics, science, technology — was changing through modernization.
These changes were shown off in 1900 at the Exposition Universelle or, as it’s more commonly called, the Paris Exposition. Essentially, it was an expensive and elaborate way for France to brag about its achievements at the beginning of the 20th century.
“Paris 1900,” which is in collaboration with one of my favorite Parisian museums, the City of Paris Museum of Fine Arts, is a fantastic collection of more than 200 pieces of art that represent all things Belle Époque. Beyond the great art from the likes of Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Camille Pissarro, the exhibit serves as a good introduction to Art Nouveau — a style that transcended art to include architecture — while also showing what the city looked like as 51 million spectators visited over six months.
Then there is arguably the most iconic Parisian landmark: The Eiffel Tower. Built as a temporary installation for an earlier world’s fair, it remained and became a major attraction during the exposition. Today, it is France’s most visited monument.
The atrium just inside the museum's Southwest Park Avenue entrance has been transformed into a Paris streetscape with benches and faux greenery oriented around a massive wall print of the Eiffel Tower. While a cart sells coffee and pastries, it does feel like a café — or at least a bar with champagne and French wine — is missing from the experience.
It might seem like an unusual choice, but I thought one of best pieces of art in the exhibit are the posters made to advertise the exposition.
If you go
“Paris 1900: City of Entertainment” is on exhibit at the Portland Art Museum through September 8. The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. with Thursday and Friday visiting hours extended to 8 p.m. Admission is free for children under 18 and $20 for adults.
Portland International Airport is about 12 miles or 30 minutes by car from downtown.