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Pourquoi organiser des Expositions universelles ? Le « succès » de l'Exposition universelle de 1867

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  • Édouard Vasseur
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    Abstract

    [fre] La France est l'inventeur et le principal organisateur des expositions industrielles au XIXe siècle. L'objectif de l'auteur est de s'interroger sur les raisons de cet engouement, désormais disparu, à travers l'exemple de l'Exposition universelle de 1867 à Paris, considérée comme un succès. L'organisation des expositions, notamment celle de 1867, résulte de la conjonction de plusieurs volontés. Celle des industriels, qui les considèrent comme un élément clé de leur stratégie commerciale grâce aux médailles et récompenses, instruments de validation de la qualité industrielle. Celle du gouvernement, promoteur de cette économie de la qualité dont la politique commerciale libérale constitue un volet. Celle des intellectuels, soucieux d'améliorer l'esthétique des produits français et de renforcer la formation professionnelle des ouvriers. La préparation de l'Exposition est dominée par des spécialistes des expositions, dominés par Frédéric Le Play, qui y synthétise son expérience. La qualité de l'organisation joue un rôle majeur dans le succès de l'événement. Cependant, la volonté d'assurer un bénéfice financier introduit des nouveautés majeures dans les expositions: démultiplication des lieux d'exposition avec la création des pavillons; ouverture à de nouvelles problématiques, notamment la question sociale; plus grande liberté laissée aux exposants pour préparer leur installation. La voie est ouverte vers le gigantisme et le spectacle, au-delà de l'objectif initial. L'Exposition est un succès populaire (1 1 millions de visiteurs) et financier. Paris, pour un été, est un lieu de fête. Les résultats de l'Exposition sont cependant loin de répondre aux attentes. Certes, l'industrie s'est modernisée et la France conserve son rang en matière d'arts décoratifs, mais la progression des États- Unis et des États allemands est patente. Quant aux idées sociales des organisateurs (patronage), elles ne reçurent un écho favorable qu'auprès de l'élite, et non auprès des ouvriers. Les expositions universelles sont au cœur du système qualitatif de l'économie française du XIXe siècle. Leur marche vers le gigantisme et le festif ainsi que leur ouverture vers des questions non directement industrielles conduira néanmoins à un dégoût qui se traduira, après 1900, par un refus de renouveler l'expérience. [eng] France invented industrial exhibitions and organised the largest number of such events in the 19th century. The writer intends to understand the meaning of this forgone craze by studying the 1867 Paris world fair, considered as a success. Several French groups agreed that there existed a need for these exhibitions. Industrial entrepreneurs considered them as a key element of their business strategy, because of prizes and awards providing ways to promote the quality of their products. The French government used them to promote its economic policy based on quality of products, es pecially in the context of the 1860 free trade treaty between France and Great-Britain. Experts thought exhibitions would improve the aesthetic quality of French products and the professional training of workers. Specialists, led by Frederic Le Play, used their best experience to organise the 1867 exhibition. The good organisation played a key role in the success of the exhibition, but the organisers had to secure a financial profit in addition. Therefore they came up with the following new elements: buildings around the palace; new concepts through expanding admission criteria, e.g. themes in relation with the living conditions of the working class; freer arrangement of private exhibitions inside the palace. Exhibitions were thus to become a gigantic and festive phenomenon, drifting away from their previous didactic objectives. The 1867 exhibition was a popular success with 11 million visitors and also a financial one. Paris hosted a festive fair over the summer period. But results would not meet expectancies. The French industry had modernised and France was always the leading nation in arts and crafts. But the United States of America and the German states had made good/obvious progress. As for the organisers' social ideas (paternalism), they had unexpectingly more impact on the elite than the workers. Universal exhibitions were a key element to the quality oriented French economic policy of the 19th century. Because they became gigantic and festive and their concept gradually embraced larger scales, especially non industrial products and themes, they would be rejected after 1900 and no government would subsequently want to organise a similar event.

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    Bibliographic Info

    Article provided by Programme National Persée in its journal Histoire, économie et société.

    Volume (Year): 24 (2005)
    Issue (Month): 4 ()
    Pages: 573-594

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    Handle: RePEc:prs:hiseco:hes_0752-5702_2005_num_24_4_2573

    Note: DOI:10.3406/hes.2005.2573
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    Web page: http://www.persee.fr/web/revues/home/prescript/revue/hes

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