In a city already awash with entertainment, the Paris World Exhibitions of 1855, 1867, 1878, 1889 and 1900 offered the ultimate spectacle in the nineteenth century.
Countless exhibitions and spectacular events scattered throughout the metropolis attracted tens of millions of visitors, confirming Paris’s reputation as ‘capital of the world’.
All this made the Expositions Universelles a perfect subject for printmakers seeking to depict modern urban life.
The Eiffel Tower
The 1889 World Exhibition focused on the promotion of French industry and technological progress.
The main attraction was the cast-iron tower designed by the engineer Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, which went on to become the icon of modern Paris. The printmaker Henri Rivière began work on his playful series of colour lithographs, Thirty-Six Views of the Eiffel Tower in 1888, while construction was still underway.
He used the tower — shown full-sheet in some cases and in others as a silhouette in the background — as his point of departure for exploring the city.
Psychology of the Masses
When Félix Vallotton was commissioned to record the 1900 World Exhibition in six woodcuts, he ignored the attractions and focused instead on the movement and responses of the masses of people who visited the exhibition.
He skilfully showed how individual visitors — crammed together and herded along the same routes — merged into a crowd that rushed in unisonto escape a shower of rain or gawped together at the firework display.
Phillip Dennis Cate, The Eiffel Tower, A Tour de Force: Its Centennial Exhibition, New York 1989
Vanessa R. Schwartz, Spectacular Realities. Early Mass Culture in Fin-de-Siècle Paris, Berkeley 1998
Jean-Christopher Mabire, L’Exposition Universelle de 1900, Paris 2000