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France: The national flag on monuments

Last modified: 2017-12-03 by ivan sache
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Flag on the Grand Palais, Paris


Flag on the Grand Palais - Image by Ivan Sache, 11 February 2009

In 1894, a contest was launched for the general design of the International Exhibition to be held in Paris in 1900. Among other things, it was decided to replace the "Palais de l'Industrie", built for the 1855 World Exhibition on the model of Paxton's Crystal Palace, by a new building called "Grand Palais"; the building should be reusable after the Exhibition for arts exhibitions and concerts and other events originally held at the "Palais de l'Industrie".
In 1896, the contest held for the design of the Grand Palais attracted some 260 contenders. Albert Louvet won the first prize (15,000 francs) but there was no agreement on his design; accordingly, four architects were commissionned to design the building (Albert Louvet, Henri Deglane, Albert Thomas and Charles Girault, as the superviser).
The building site was one of the biggest ever in Paris; 3,400 oak piles, 17,000 cubic meters of stone, 10,000 cubic meters of rubble stone, 2 millions bricks and 8,500 tons of steel were handled by 15,000 workers using the most advanced techniques of the time. Georges Récipon sculpted two bronze quadrigas on the top of the building, which was eventually "captioned" as Ce monument a été consacré par la R&ecute;publique à la gloire de l'art français (This monument was dedicated by the Republic to the glory of the French art).
During the 1900 World Exhibition, the Grand Palais housed two exhibitions, the Centennale, an history of the French painting and sculpture in the 19th century, and the Décennale, focusing on the last decade of the 19th century.
Afterwards, the Grand Palais housed two yearly art exhibitions, the Salon des artistes français, for the classic artists, and the Salon d'Automne, for the avantguardist artists. In 1905, room VII of the Salon d'Automne, showing paintings by Matisse, Derain and Vlaminck, was nicknamed la Cage aux Fauves by critics, who, inadvertently, coined the word "Fauvism". Warned that he would see "outrageous" works, President of the Republic Émile Loubet refused to inaugurate the exhibition. Since 1964, the National Galleries of the Grand Palais have housed some 250 exhibitions such as retrospectives dedicated to Gauguin, Renoir and Seurat, and, most recently Picasso. The Grand Palais also houses the "Palais de la Découverte", founded in 1937 as an "interactive museum" dedicated to science and technology.
[Grand Palais website]

The Grand Palais is surmounted by a French national flag (photo), one of the most emblematic and visible in Paris.
The flag is so visible that people ask it to be changed when it is tattered. The change of the flag is quite an expedition (video). First, the explorers have to climb a spiral staircase hidden in a pillar to reach the first roof, some 25 m above the street level. Then they must climb the famous dome of the monument, up to 45 m a. st. l., via a set of staircases, ladders and footbridges, to reach the campanile and the bulb, and, eventually, the flagstaff. Jean-Yves Flageul, in charge of the flag changing operations, confirms that the flag, fluttering 60 m l., is 6.25 m x 4 m in size (that is, an area of 25 sq. m). The flag is (deliberately) riddled with millimetric holes allowing the wind to blow through.
While not apparent from the street, the proportions of the flag are therefore not the usual 2:3 but 16:25 (25/16 is 1.5625 instead of 1.5).

Ivan Sache, 11 February 2009