Category: Art

The sad history of the Japanese tower and the Chinese Pavilion in Brussels

In 1900 there was a world fair in Paris. The Grand Palais and Petit Palais, as well as the nearby Pont Alexandre III, were built for this fair, and are famous Paris landmarks to this day. The fair showed novelties such as Rudolf Diesel‘s engine (running on peanut oil!), Russian matryoshka dolls, talking films, and escalators.

The world fair also contained a pavilion called Le Tour du Monde, designed by the French architect Alexandre Marcel. The pavilion consisted of a set of buildings showing different architectural styles from all over the world. Within the building were panoramas that showed various places in the world, such as a Chinese city, a cemetery in Constantinople, the Suez Canal, and the Angkor Wat Temple. One part of this pavilion was a pagoda in a Japanese style.

King Leopold II of Belgium visited this world fair, and was so impressed by Alexandre Marcel’s pavilion that he wanted something similar as an ornament for Brussels. He hired the architect to build in a corner of the palace grounds in Laken a Japanese tower similar to that at the world fair, and also a pavilion in the Chinoiserie style. Marcel included a small part of the world-fair pavilion in the buildings for the king, but most of it was newly designed and built. The ostensible purpose of the Japanese tower was to contain a permanent trade show “to stimulate trade with the far East”, and of the Chinese pavilion to be run as a restaurant (a French haute-cuisine restaurant of course, running a Chinese restaurant in it was never considered). I’m not sure anybody took these justifications serious, but the truth is that no restaurateur was ever interested in operating a restaurant in the Chinese pavilion, the effectiveness of the trade show was highly debatable, and in any case it only ever occupied a small part of the tower.

Review: The Hare With Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal

According to wikipedia, a netsuke is a miniature sculpture. It goes on to explain that it was invented for a practical purpose: to hang an object such as an inrō box from a belt. In reality, that practical purpose was mostly just an excuse to own a netsuke; a simple piece of wood would have worked just as well. So, a…

Things to do: visit the Baur foundation – Museum of Far Eastern Art in Geneva

Alfred Baur (1865-1951) was a Swiss businessman who spent a lot of time in Asia, and took the opportunity to collect Chinese and Japanese art. What makes his collection remarkable is first of all his impeccable good taste: he always chose quality over quantity, and the refined over the gaudy. Moreover, a few years before his death he bought a house in…

Things to do: visit Claude Monet’s house and garden in Giverny

One place that is certainly worth a visit is Claude Monet‘s house and garden in Giverny. Monet first saw the small village of Giverny from a train, and he decided to live there. Eventually he bought a house there and lived in it for 43 years. Next to the house he had a large studio, and around the house he created a beautiful…

Things to do: visit the Machines of the Isle of Nantes

One thing to do is visit the Machines of the Isle of Nantes. I have very good memories of the street performance The Sultan’s Elephant that I saw in Antwerp. The machines they show in Nantes are not the same, but to see a (variation of) the elephant again is already worth the visit, and I am curious what else they…

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