The 1889 Argentine Pavilion: From Paris to Plaza San Martín in Buenos Aires.

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In 1889, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution, the Universal Exhibition was held in Paris: a show in which Argentina exhibited its place as an agricultural superpower. Built by Parisian architects, it was disassembled after the exhibition and brought by ship, to be reassembled in Plaza San Martín, Retiro where it was the seat of the Museum of Fine Arts until 1933.

Emerging in the mid-nineteenth century as a result of the Industrial Revolution, and within the framework of a liberal capitalist model, international exhibitions were the ideal scenario for the various countries of the world to exhibit their wealth and products to European society and international potential investors. The Exposition Universelle de Paris of 1889, was created to celebrate the centennial of the French Revolution, and was undoubtedly the most important of them, with its revolutionary 300-meter-high iron structure, originally designed to be dismantled at the end of the event, became the icon of Paris and all of France: the Eiffel Tower.

The Argentine Republic, 37 years after the Battle of Caseros, was emerging as an agricultural-cattle superpower. Officially invited by the French government to participate in the Universal Exhibition, by decree of October 29, 1886, a commission was created in charge of everything related to the organization, which appointed Dr. Eugenio Cambacérès as a delegate in Paris to carry out the negotiations. But the most magnificent exhibition, splendidly illuminated at night, and the most opulent and ostentatious by day was by far the Argentine pavilion.

The management and construction in Paris

One of the first issues Cambacérès had to solve was getting land in the Field of Mars for the location of the pavilion. At first, the general director of the exhibition, Georges Berger, had suggested to the countries of America that they all exhibit together in one place, a proposal that the Argentine delegate rejected, and requested instead, 6,000 m2 of its own. Finally, 1,600 were granted to them on the border of the Seine, not far from the Eiffel Tower.

In January 1888, the Argentine Republic called for a tender in France for the presentation of projects inherent to the construction of the structure. There were 27 applicants, and the same engineer Jean-Charles Alphand, one of the three executive directors of the show, presided over the selection ceremony. Plans of the French Louis-Ernest Barrias and Albert Ballu were the first and second winners. However, after requesting the jury to do some modifications, Ballu’s project was finally selected.

Albert Ballu (1849-1939) studied architecture at the prestigious École Beaux-Arts graduated in 1872. It projected the Palace of Justice of Bucharest and was the author of the Station and the Cathedral of Oran, in Algeria; he also built the Algerian pavilion for this same exhibition.

Immediately after designating the winner of the contest, tenders for the iron structure were called and the proposal of the well-known Société des Ponts et Travaux in Fer was awarded among seven bidders. It was the same firm that was responsible for the construction of the immense domes of the palaces of Beaux-Arts and Arts Libéraux of the exhibition. The basement masonry works were assigned directly to the renowned businessman Riffaud.

Designed to be moved

The Argentine government demanded from the architect Ballu that the pavilion be disassembled and then transferred to Buenos Aires after the exhibition. A novel structure of bolted beams, columns and iron platforms was projected, to which the rest of the cladding and decoration materials were attached, all prefabricated and assembled, to allow a quick and easy assembly and disassembly. The initial 1,600 m2 of space was doubled with the addition of a first floor and a dome 30 meters high, accompanied by four others of smaller size.

It highlighted the colorful exterior appearance of the building, the result of the use of enameled ceramics, stained glass, the gilding of the irons and sculptures, the blue and white colors of the national flag, painted in the segments that made up the dome, and numerous glass ampoules which protected electric light bulbs. The composition of the Argentine pavilion resembled those built by France, “its structure is identical to the other great buildings that have been erected for the Exhibition”, assured the Spanish and American Illustration in its publicationof June 4, 1889. The total cost of construction was 1,108,038.63 francs, to which another 165,597.82 were added for decoration and furniture.

A reflection of times of an economic bonanza, Argentina hired reputed French painters for the execution of great fabrics that shone in their premises: Jules Lefebvre, Tony Robert-Fleury, Louis Hector Leroux, Luc-Olivier Merson, Albert Besnard, Henri Gervex, Gaston Casimir Saint -Pierre, Felix-Joseph Barrias, Alfred Roll, Fernand Cormon and Charles Toché were some of the artists commissioned.

Album Vistas de Buenos Aires

That is, the representation of the Argentine Republic accompanied by many categories: Industry, Agriculture and Livestock. all of the statues were made in bronze by the prestigious foundry French Thiébaut Frères, author in Buenos Aires of the street lamp that crowns the building of the newspaper La Prensa on Avenida de Mayo.

Nauguración of the Universal Exhibition

The opening of the Universal Exhibition was on May 6, a day attended by more than 120,000 people. However, due to the delay in the shipment of some products that would be exhibited, the Argentine Pavilion was inaugurated on May 25, in coincidence with the celebration of the country’s birth date. The event was attended with great pomp by the President of France, Marie François Sadi Carnot, accompanied by ministers, the highest authorities of the exhibition and the famous architect Charles Garnier, who was received by the Vice President of the Argentine Republic, Dr. Carlos Pellegrini, and an official cortege of important people to highlight the importance of the ceremony, which was widely covered by the international press.

Within the premises, the exhibition was distributed throughout the two levels. “On the ground floor, the most important exhibits country products, wheat, wines, and construction wood; In an indoor pavilion, a refrigeration room was installed by Mr. Sansinena and Company, with the necessary equipment for meat conservation.

On the main floor were hides, leather, wool, and various industrial products “, detailed the Spanish newspaper La Epoca of June 7, 1889.

La Exposición Universal concluded on November 6, 1889; It was visited in total by more than two million people. The structure was later stored in a warehouse, and two of the four sculptures that crowned the building were placed on pedestals on the esplanade of the Casa Rosada (still under construction), where they remained for a few years.

The transfer and lease in Buenos Aires

In October of 1890, when the pieces were being moved by ship back to Buenos Aires, the businessman Enrique Pontecórboli presented to the national government a proposal to lease the pavilion for theater and several other business uses.

However, the tender for its exploitation ended up being won by the company of Messrs. Juan Waldrop y Cía, who between 1893 and 1894 mounted the structure in front of Plaza San Martín, on Arenales Street, between Florida and Maipú, on the land that belonged to the Retiro Barracks, demolished in 1891.

The engineers Juan Waldorp, Juan Bautista Medici and the architect Carlo Morra, members of the concessionaire company, were in charge of the reconstruction of the Pavilion, which was equipped with a theater on the ground floor, and in the surrounding land a restaurant was built on the street Maipú, a belvedere on the ravine and a kiosk for local bands.

In addition, to the plans of the original project, there was a number of facilities among which included a cycle track, target shooting, a puppet theater, and a “diabolical swing.”

Engraving of the opening of the Argentine Pavilion in Buenos Aires. May of 1894.
Crédito: La Ilustración Sud Americana

In 1897, on the occasion of organizing the following year the Exhibition National Institute of Industry, Art, Agriculture and Commerce, the National State, which was the owner of the pavilion, approved a contract concluded between the National Exhibition Commission and the Waldorp company for the rent of the building, with destination to the exhibition of 1898.

Also, the building was used by different communities of foreign residents in the country, for the realization of their parties, standing out among them the one organized by the Spanish Patriotic Association between the end of 1897 and the beginning of 1898, in order to raise funds to pay for the last term of the Río de la Plata cruise, and in November 1899 the German community celebrated its popular festivities, whose profits were collected for the benefit of the German Hospital.

A New Century, a new use

In August 1900, the Ministry of Agriculture accepted the transfer of the occupation rights of the Argentine Pavilion of the Waldorp company to the Argentine Industrial Union, with a view of the convenience of providing the Museum of National Products, which this association administered, with an adequate location for its installation and development, for which this association had to pay $ 180,000 to the company Waldorp y Cía within one year.

However, the decree of the ministry was analyzed by Congress National and, in December 1901, ruled that the installation of the División de Minas y Geología, del Museo de Minerología and of the Permanent Exhibition of National Products, which was visited by foreign delegations during their official visits. Then it was used for the International Hygiene Exhibition of 1904, the Exhibition of Spanish Products of that same year, also being used by gymnastic-acrobatic troupes in 1905, the French Art Exhibition of the years 1908 and 1909, and the Floral Games organized by the Casal Catalá in January of 1909.

Installation of the National Museum of Fine Arts

In 1910, on the occasion of the celebration of the Centennial celebrations of the May Revolution, different properties of the capital were set up for the staging of international exhibitions.

In the Plaza San Martín, the International Art Exhibition was installed, which occupied not only the Argentine Pavilion but also a building temporarily erected next to it. These artistic samples would end up sealing their destiny when, in 1911, the National Museum of Fine Arts was permanently installed in the place.

This institution had long claimed a space to exhibit its collection properly, and in 1907 a project by the architect Julio Dormal had been approved for the construction of a building of its own, which never happened.

When the British company Buenos Aires Railroad to the Pacific acquired the building of the Galeries Bon Marché Argentino, where the museum operated since its foundation, the National State had to improvise a new headquarters, which ended up being in the Pavilion.

The building was not the most suitable due to a large number of adaptations that were needed, added to the numerous leaks that affected the works.

The interiors were compartmentalized and the stained glass windows removed, to allow more exhibition space. On the ground floor were the rubbings acquired in 1905 by Eduardo Schiaffino in Europe, while the first floor exhibited paintings and sculptures, following the curatorial script a chronological order and by donation of collectors.

Also, the building formerly used as a restaurant on Maipú Street became the seat of the National Commission of Fine Arts.

The disassembly and finishing of the pieces

As expected, the inconveniences increased with the passage of time, since in October 1928 the decision of the jury for the preliminary design of the new museum building, which would be built on the site, was approved by decree of President Marcelo T. de Alvear. on the ground of the Argentine Pavilion; the architects Carlos A. Herrera Mac Lean and Rafael Quartino Herrera were the winners of the first prize and the artistic direction. However, the project never materialized.

Finally in 1933, before the numerous claims of the management of the National Museum of Fine Arts, and the imminent creation of the Parque del Retiro, which would unite the Plaza San Martín with the British, work for them that it would be necessary to demolish several buildings and remove the Pavilion, the national government decided the transfer of the institution to the old building of the House of Sanitary Works Pumps in the Recoleta, which was remodeled by the architect Alejandro Bustillo for its new use.

The architect himself was in charge of remodeling the building of the Palais de Glace so that the Commission could be installed there Nacional de Bellas Artes.

In 1933, the Argentine Pavilion was removed and its pieces, stored in a warehouse. The panels with portraits of Argentine heroes decorating the inner cupola were temporarily exhibited in the National Museum of Fine Arts, and the four sculptures that finished the angles were donated to the Municipality and today they are located in different points of the city. For its part, the allegorical group that crowned the main access was relocated in the courtyard of the Raggio Technical School, where it can still be seen from the Avenida del Libertador.

The End

In March 1935, by decree of President Agustín P. Justo, the National Government approved the tender for the sale in public auction of the materials and structures of the Pavilion. Some parts were acquired by individuals and the rest, sent to the Casares crusher, located in a sector of the 3 de Febrero Park.

Parts of the Argentine Pavilion found in Pontevedra, Merlo.

In 1998, the researcher Olga Vitali found some fragments of the Pavilion reused as part of the iron structure of a shed in the neighborhood of Mataderos, in Calle Andalgalá 1475, and in 2009 those pieces were declared Cultural by Law N 3306

However, in August 2002, the lands of Calle Andalgalá had already been sold and the structure was dismantled. On May 21, 2014, La Nación warned that some parts were offered for sale by the Mercadolibre site, and that they were no longer in Mataderos, but in a piece of land in Pontevedra, Merlo.

Source: La Nacion

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