Portland of today might not be that far from the Paris of before. Given the popularity of Portland's leisurely afternoon cappuccinos, the fact that duck fat makes an appearance at our most basic burger joints, and our status as the last bastion of cigarette smoking on the West Coast, we like to joke about our European airs. But our innovative and creative spirits also connect us with Paris in the 1900s.The 1900 Exposition Universelle was the fifth World's Fair to take place in Paris, and the biggest yet, gathering many of the world's most powerful nations to show off and take in technological and artistic accomplishments. Paris wanted to stand out from rival cities London and Berlin and this exposition solidified its position as the center for European entertainment and the arts. It was at this Fair that the first diesel engine powered by peanut oil was introduced.
Portland Art Museum brings Belle Époque Paris to life in Paris 1900: City of Entertainment. It draws you into the excitement and glamour of this important moment in time, and might make you feel slightly under-dressed for the occasion as you enter the six lavish rooms, each one more extravagant than the last, in your mere street clothes. A stunning collection of pieces that convey how the city at that time was a showcase of the world; a capital of the arts, night-life, fashion, and décor—Paris 1900 inspired us to search for a little piece of 1900 Paris right here in Portland.
Portrait of Madame René Préjelan, by Antonio de La Gandara, ca. 1903.
This oil portrait depicts the stylish wife of painter and illustrator René Préjelan, dressed in some of the most en vogue pieces of the time. From the large feathered hat to the snatched corset and short train, the painting almost brings a swishing sound of silk skirts to your ears. You can head to Xtabay Vintage Clothing Boutique (2515 SE Clinton St, 503-230-2899, xtabayvintage.com) for your own glamorous look, where you'll find authentic old-world frocks. Owner Liz Gross stocks everything from Japanese silk robes from the 1920s to 100-year-old English embroidered lace gowns that were just an idea in a dressmaker's mind during the 1900 World Fair.
Beetle Vase, 1911.
Art Nouveau was the reigning decorative style in Paris at the turn of the century, a nature-reverent reaction to the academic art of the 19th century. Art Nouveau was inspired by natural forms and structures, particularly the curved lines of plants and flowers. In a town similarly saturated in beautiful decor options for home and office, Trove (126 SW Harvey Milk St) is a highly curated boutique with vintage decor that demonstrates examples of French Polynesian decor descended from the Art Nouveau movement. Here you'll see Pacificana-centric finds like painted lacquer chests, vibrant framed art made with multicolored feathers, woven wicker chairs and ornate chandeliers made with cascading strands of seashells.
Bust of Auguste Rodin, 1889.
It wouldn't be a Belle Époque exhibition without Auguste Rodin, and this particular sculpture is considered one of the best portraits of the famous sculptor. Camille Claudel met Rodin in the early 1880s, soon after her arrival in Paris, while studying sculpture under Alfred Boucher. Claudel entered Rodin's studio in 1884: two years later she made a portrait of him. To find the perfect statement art piece that completes your sitting room or library, consider the antique art collection at Cultured Pearl (1110 NW Flanders St, 503-226-4262). The expertly curated selection offers art and furnishings skillfully restored to their former glory, from affordable pieces to sought-after rarities.
Scale model of double-decker Parisian tram, 1900.
Yes, you read that correctly—a scale model of the same tram running along Parisian cobblestones will be present in all its metal, polychromed wood, glass, and leather glory. In 1900, most Parisian trams were still driven by steam and compressed air, and the entire system was not electrified until the 1910s, with the last of the horse-drawn line serving until 1913. You'll also see hints of the popularization of cycling in various paintings and advertisements from the era. Take control over your transport 1900 Paris-style at Bike Farm (1810 NE 1st Ave, 971-533-7428, bikefarm.org), a volunteer-run shop and communal workshop that demystifies safe commuting and handling your own repairs.
Portrait of the Place Clichy by Edmond Grandjean, 1896.
At first glance, this is a nice painting of old Paris, her striking facades serving as a backdrop to a run-of-the-mill street scene. But a closer inspection reveals that this painting hints at the changing times: a woman zips past on a bicycle, and regular folk ride an omnibus alongside wealthy private carriages. In a similar fashion, at first look, Portland's own Pittock Mansion (3229 NW Pittock Drive, 503-823-3623, pittockmansion.org) is a shining tribute to French Renaissance architecture and former wealthy residence too stately to enter. But look around you, and you'll notice not only every type of local and tourist here to enjoy the view of the city, but modern updates from the garden to the air conditioned restrooms. The view of the city shows much more commerce and buildings than it did when this viewpoint was first constructed, but the crystal clear sight of Mt. Hood on a sunny day remains a timeless treat.
An Evening at the Pré-Catelan, by Henri Gervex, 1909.
This oil painting of a night in one of Paris' hottest restaurants of that era captures the festive energy pulsing through the dining room. Visited by the social elite, where people could "see and be seen," Le Pré Catelan reigned as one of the most popular restaurants in the capital during the Belle Époque. The owner, Léopold Mourier, commissioned this painting to commemorate his restaurant's starring role in Parisian dining and nightlife. Kristen D. Murray, owner, chef, and pastry savant of MÅURICE (921 SW Oak St., 503-224-9921, mauricepdx.com), is far more humble than that, but her consistently magical French luncheonette shares a similarly starring role in Portland's food scene.
Take your Portland Parisian summer one step further and come to one of the great programs being offered:
- July 7, 2 pm—How to Become a Mass-Media Star in the 19th Century: Sarah Bernhardt and the Belle Époque
- August 1, 5:30 pm—Music & History of Belle Époque Paris
- August 18, 2 pm—The Belle Époque that Never Ends: Paris 1900 and its Afterlives
- September 8, 2 pm—Empire and Memory at the Portland World’s Fair
Admission tips – Kids age 17 and under are always free; $5 admission every Friday night after 5 pm; free admission for everyone each first Thursday of the month from 5 pm to 8 pm (except July 4th); plus student and senior discounts.