Night Route – Modern Paris at the Petit Palais

Until April 14, 2024, you can discover the exhibition “Le Paris de la modernité” at the Petit Palais in Paris, which opened its doors on November 14 last year. The theme covers a major period of creation, from 1905 to 1925, which saw the transition from Art Nouveau to Art Deco.

The exhibition shows an extraordinary selection of paintings, some sculptures, and objects that illustrate the transformations of society and culture in step with the multiple artistic currents that, from Cubism to the École de Paris, experienced the rupture of the Great War.

Naively, one could think that the rise of transportation and travel, the expansion of the automobile industry marked by a beginning of democratization and standardization would be highlighted. It was assumed that, among the applied arts, alongside jewelry, silversmithing, or cabinetmaking, coachbuilding would be treated with its rightful place.

Between 1905 and 1925, the master cars are adorned and furnished like exquisite boudoirs. Cabinetmakers, upholsterers, silversmiths, upholsterers, and trimmings participate in the celebration of luxury. Coachbuilders breathe traditional decorative materials into the interiors: eggshell inlays, shagreen scales, or rosewood marquetry.

The spirit of the masters of Art Nouveau and decorative arts hovers over these motorized alcoves. Some famous creators associate their names with those of coachbuilders. The examples are numerous, such as Jacques-Émile Ruhlmann studying a coupe project for the Delaunay-Belleville firm, lacquerer Jean Dunand painting a flight of storks in the confinement of a Hispano-Suiza, or glassmaker René Lalique creating a series of crystal mascots intended to adorn radiators.

The habitacles of master cars call upon all crafts.

The arrival of André Citroën and Gabriel Voisin on the automotive scene in 1919 brought a breath of modernity to the design, manufacture, and promotion of automobiles. Through the two currents that irrigate the 1920s, two ways of life clash; two political commitments as well. The progressives defend a democratic vision of society while the conservatives drape themselves in an elitist position.

But at the Petit Palais, only one car expresses this creativity: a 1912 Peugeot BP1 “Bébé-Peugeot.” Studied by Ettore Bugatti, this little car is certainly a judicious choice… but unfortunately too isolated and too limiting…

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