The Palais de la Porte Dorée, testimony to colonial history

The Palais de la Porte Dorée, testimony to colonial history

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Home ›Studies› The Palais de la Porte Dorée, testimony to colonial history

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Title: Palace of the Golden Gate. View of the facade.

Creation date : 1931

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Storage location: National City of Immigration History website

Contact copyright: © Public establishment of the Palais de la Porte Dorée. @ADAGP

Palace of the Golden Gate. View of the facade.

© Public establishment of the Palais de la Porte Dorée. @ADAGP

Publication date: April 2008

Doctorate in Art History

Historical context

A permanent palace inherited from the Colonial Exhibition of 1931

The Palais de la Porte Dorée is the only monumental vestige of the 1931 International Colonial Exhibition, an event intended to show the influence of the French and European Colonial Empire. After the end of the Great War, France intended to support and develop the influence of its imperialism, and wanted to encourage metropolitan residents to invest in the economic development of what was then called "the Greater France". The project managers of this Exhibition, including Marshal Lyautey, had chosen an unusual site for a large-scale event similar to a universal exhibition: the Bois de Vincennes, on the edge of the old Porte de Picpus (now Porte Golden). It is now moved a few tens of meters on a median.

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Eclectic architecture and a grandiose decor

Listed as a historical monument since 1987, the Palais de la Porte Dorée is a unique building in the panorama of Parisian architecture. Witness to the combined taste of the 1930s for the exotic and the rationalism of forms, it is the work of Albert Laprade and Léon Jaussely. These two architects imposed an eclecticism in the capital that broke with the neoclassical tradition still advocated by the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. The facade of the palace, punctuated by powerful pillars, is provided with a sumptuous and lively stone decoration that contrasts with the rectilinear architecture of the building. Entrusted to the sculptor Alfred-Auguste Janniot, the bas-relief develops in the form of a vast fresco of 1130 square meters. This artistic tour de force was completed in just two years, with the help of a good team of practitioners who translated into stone the clay models sculpted by Janniot. Punctuated by allegories, the representation of all the exotic flora and fauna, this stone ornament exalts the colonial riches. The interior of the palace is also sumptuously decorated, with numerous floor mosaics and a huge fresco decoration by Ducos de la Haille in the large village hall. Some Salons have also received a choice of art deco furniture designed by the famous designer Ruhlmann.


A propaganda building

The architecture of an official building is dedicated to delivering an immediately identifiable ideological, symbolic or commemorative message. The organizers of the Colonial Exposition of 1931 wanted to demonstrate the power of Republican colonization. The Palais de la Porte Dorée, the only building to remain permanent at the end of the demonstration, therefore had to satisfy with its architecture and decor the deliverance of these political ideals of the moment. The two architects thus achieved an architectural synthesis of the different styles of the colonial empire, notably by taking up the principle of Moroccan palaces. In order to make this recovery part of Western cultural heritage, they associated with it the monumentality of ancient temples. The large stone fresco that covers the facade, masterfully executed by Alfred Auguste Janniot, also delivers a message that is both educational and propagandist.

Like a large pictorial book depicting the colonies, the decor illustrates the Empire's contributions to the metropolis. The colonized ethnic groups are minutely detailed there, and inscriptions make it possible to identify more clearly the products and the regions represented. Through a game of answers between the interior and the exterior, the fresco by Ducos de la Haille deals with the theme of the contribution of the metropolis to the colonial empire. The museum was also thought of as a colonization memorial, since engraved on the left side facade of the building is a list of scientific or administrative personalities who distinguished themselves in the conquest of the colonies. A monument of French colonialism, the Palais de la Porte Dorée served from 1960 as a showcase for the Museum of African and Oceanic Arts (MAOO), whose collections joined the Quai Branly Museum, which opened in 2006. Since October 2007, it houses the National City of History and Immigration.

  • architecture
  • exoticism
  • Colonial exhibition of 1931
  • colonial history
  • Doumergue (Gaston)
  • imperialism
  • frescoes


Charles-Robert AGERON "The colonial exhibition of 1931: republican myth or imperial myth", in Pierre NORA (ed.), Places of memories, t. 1, The Republic, Paris, Gallimard, 1984, reedited Quarter, 1997. Maurice CULOT and Anne LAMBRICHSAlbert Laprade (1883-1978)Paris, ed. Norma, 2007 Anne DEMEURISSE (under dir.)Alfred-Auguste Janniot (1889-1969)Paris, ed. Somogy, 2003.Catherine HODEIR and Michel PIERREThe Colonial Exhibition of 1931Brussels, Complex, 1991.Maureen MURPHY, A Palace for a City, from the Colonial Museum to the National City of History and Immigration, Paris, ed. RMN, 2007.Germain VIATTE (under dir.), The Colonial Palace, History of the Museum of African and Oceania Arts, Paris, ed. NMR, 2002.

To cite this article

Claire MAINGON, "The Palais de la Porte Dorée, testimony to colonial history"



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