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Dreaming of a new "Golden Age"

Updated: Mar 28, 2023

The Belle Époque (a.k.a "Beautiful Era" or "Golden Age") was a peaceful and economic prosperity period that started in 1871 and ended with the beginning of the Great War in 1914. It was known as an age of general peace, optimism and economic growth. The non-stop discoveries and technological innovations instilled good vibrations in people of the

time so that they would think that sooner or later a solution to all the problems of humanity would have been found. It was the time when the bourgeoisie celebrated its triumph, a new phase of development and welfare that would have last until the outbreak of the Great War.

In 1895 the Lumière brothers presented their first movie "L'arroseur arrosé" in a Parisian café. It was the time of first motion pictures and new theatrical performances trials. It was the era of George Mélies, a true magician and inventor, who presented in theatres his illusionistic performances. The Excelsior dance exploded, along with the myth of progress, and was acclaimed all over Europe. During the same period, the first flight experiments began, when the Wright brothers were able to fly a rudimentary plane with a blast engine. Paid hot-air balloon trips were organised throughout the Old Continent. The Simplon tunnel was completed and the Orient Express was the first train of its category to cross Europe by rail in 1883. First passenger lines like the transatlantic Titanic offered luxury travels. The technological discoveries helped to increase the quality of life: running water and toilets, the use of the electric bulb and the introduction of the electric lift, the spread of gramophone, the first Espresso coffee machines, early sewing machines models, the first diesel cars, the first telephones etc… and World fairs were the showcases that inventors used to present their new discoveries and creations to public. The scientific discoveries helped to increase the duration of life, fighting and eradicating common diseases. It was during this era that biologists and physicians finally came to understand the germ theory of disease, and the field of bacteriology was established. Louis Pasteur developed pasteurisation and a rabies vaccine. Marie Curie worked in France, winning the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1903, and the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1911. Physicist Gabriel Lippmann invented integral imaging, still in use today. Art and literature rode the wave of the progress with vanguard movements like Post-mpressionism, Art Nouveau and Futurism later on. It was the time of Colonial Safaris, of the first Olympic games, of new mass media, and the advent of mass production through the assembly line.

At the World Exposition of Paris in 1878, the gardens of the Trocadéro displayed the full-size head of the Statue of Liberty, before the statue was completed and shipped to New York.

The 1900 Paris World's Fair, before the start of the balloon race

In 1895 the Lumière brothers presented their first motion picture in history "L'arroseur arrosé" in a Parisian café.

A Trip to the Moon by Georges Méliès, 1902

The Transportation building inside the Paris World fair of 1900. During the Belle Epoque, the world fairs were mostly used to present to public new cretions and discoveries for the first time. The Parisian world exposition of 1900 is considered a symbol of the Belle Epoque for the amount of new stuff presented for the first time to public.

The first flight experiments began during the Belle Epoque, when the Wright brothers were able to fly a rudimentary plane with a blast engine in 1903

French engineer Paul Cornu in his first helicopter in 1907. Note that he is sitting between the two rotors, which rotated in opposite directions to cancel torque. This helicopter was the first flying machine to have risen from the ground using rotor blades instead of wings.

Inauguration of the Simplon tunnel, 1906

In 1890, photographer Paul Nadar took the oldest known photograph of the arrival of the Orient Express at its final destination.

Above is a very rare poster advertising of Titanic's first sailing from New York on 20 April 1912. Though the transatlantic never made a return journey, it remains one of the symbols of the Belle Epoque. The scarcity of this poster is due to the fact that after Titanic sank on 15 April 1912, the White Star Line pulled down and destroyed as many of these posters as they could find.

Columbia Gramophone, 1901

One of the early espresso coffee machine, built in 1900 and first showed to the public at the World Exposition in Turin (Italy) in 1902. This piece of craftmenship from the Belle Epoque period is jealously guarded and cared at the historic Caffé Reggio in New York City.

My Singer 27k Sphinx (aka Memphis, Egyptian) model, 1903. No other invention has brought with it such a great relief for our mothers and daughters as these cast iron treadle sewing machines. Before their invention housewives spent much of their time maintaining their family's clothing. Powered by a foot pedal, they stood out for being a true revolution during the time they were invented.

Early telephones. The first call was made from Bell to an assistant sitting 15 feet away on March 10, 1876, when Bell said, “Watson, come here, I want you.”

Advertising poster of the Paris World Fair in 1889. At the time, World fairs were the location inventors used to present to their new discoveries and creations to public.

Ford assembly line, 1913. Thanks to the introduction of the assembly line by American entrepreneur Henry Ford (who applied Frederick Taylor's theories for the first time) industrial efficiency for mass production was improved.

Tailored women suits by Paquin. Félix, Les Modes June 1909. The Belle Époque was also an era of fashion. Jeanne Paquin was one of several fashion designers of the Belle Époque. She became known for her publicity stunts including sending her models to the races and the opera to get her designs noticed.

Sir Frederick Selous (1851-1917), British explorer and officer, photographed with his rifle during one of his African safaris, 1890s.

“Beautiful Era” is the translation for Belle Epoque that best describes the happy golden age that changed people quality of life, though their cotton wool wrap was shattered by the outbreak of the First World War in 1914.

The years between the end of 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century the bourgeoisie celebrated the achievements of its hegemony with universal expositions, featuring the most striking wonders in the field technology, science, art, design and fashion.

George Griffith (1857-1906), British science fiction writer and noted explorer who wrote during the late Victorian and Edwardian age

Victorian explorers and Officers coming back from Colonial Safaris and expeditions used to conquer hordes of audience with their intriguing tales at public speaches. The investigation of the World by explorers contributed significantly to the development of modern society as we know it today. Explorers were expected to discover new lands, break records and map the world for future travellers. It was a dangerous but exhilarating opportunity for adventurers, whatever their social class, to advance scientific knowledge, acquire new mineral and agricultural resources and to make their own fortunes. Their stories just reinforced the belief of the bourgeoisie on being better, more intelligent and richer than the colonies dwellers. This only helped to instil more positivity in people of the time.

Winston Churchill on top of a makeshift observation tower in Africa, 1908

Living life with this spirit of carefree and positivity towards innovations led society to a more mundane lifestyle. People in big cities discovered the pleasure of going out just for a drink, to meet at cafes, to go to theaters and then to cinemas thanks to Lumière Brothers first motion pictures. The city streets were full of colours: elegant art nouveau style buildings, seducing advertising posters, shop windows decorated with all sorts of goods, elegant and refined department stores, chic cafés etc…

Mass entertainment was transformed by venues like the Moulin Rouge, home of the Can-Can, by new styles of performance in the theater, by shorter forms of music, and by the realism of modern writers. In Paris, restaurants such as Maxim's achieved a new splendor and cachet as places for the rich to parade. Maxim's Paris was arguably the city's most exclusive restaurant. Bohemian lifestyles gained a different glamour, pursued in the cabarets of Montmartre. This mentality and this way of dealing with life had also affected the industrial sector: decorative arts influenced not just interior design and fashion but almost every field involved in the production of goods. Every object was not just conceived to be functional but designed to be also beautiful, decorated with floral motif, curved and arabesque lines.

Elegant Art Nouveau style buildings in Paris

Exposition Universelle de Paris, Paris World Fair, 1900. Many of the buildings we can still admire today were specially built for the 1900 Parisian world exhibit.

Home of Jules Lavirotte. I always fall in love with the façade of this apartment building. It was erected in 1901 in the style of Jules Lavirotte’s Art Nouveau designs. Its extravagant entryway depicts a lush Garden of Eden. The house at 29 Avenue Rapp is considered one of the most richly detailed Art Nouveau structures in Paris. (Courtesy of

Entrances to the Paris Métro. Follow these signs underground to the vast network that is Le Métro in Paris. The system first opened in 1900 with entryways designed by Hector Guimard. Today, Guimard’s decorative wrought-iron apertures are emblematic of Art Nouveau Paris. (Courtesy of

Le Grand Palais. The building was erected for the Universal Exposition of Paris in 1900. It’s all about the ironwork in the Grand Palais des Champs-Élysées’s interior. Though this massive exhibition hall is considered a neoclassical or Beaux Arts structure on the outside, its interior ribs and tendrils bare the unmistakable “whiplash” of Art Nouveau lines. (Courtesy of

Galeries Lafayette. The Galeries Lafayette, a palatial flagship department store that first opened its door to public in 1912, offers both retail and architectural splendor. Peer up from its bowed balconies at a dramatic cupola in a turn-of-the-century palette. (Courtesy of

Lamps of the Pont Alexandre III. The Beaux-Arts style bridge, with its exuberant Art Nouveau lamps, cherubs, nymphs and winged horses at either end, was built between 1896 and 1900. It is named after Tsar Alexander III, who had concluded the Franco-Russian Alliance in 1892. His son Nicholas II laid the foundation stone in October 1896. The style of the bridge reflects that of the Grand Palais, to which it leads on the right bank. (Courtesy of

Maxim’s is like a time capsule from the Belle Époque. The restaurant was founded as a bistro in 1893 by Maxime Gaillard, formerly a waiter. It became one of the most popular and fashionable restaurants in Paris under its next owner, Eugene Cornuché. Cornuché gave the dining room its Art Nouveau decor and made sure that it was always filled with beautiful women. (Courtesy of

Castel Béranger is a residential building with twenty-six apartments located at 14 rue de la Fontaine in the 16th arrondissement of Paris. It was designed by the architect Hector Guimard, and built between 1895 and 1898. It was the first residence in Paris built in Art Nouvaeu style. (Courtesy of

The building up of the first shopping malls is a proof of the sociological changes that took place during this time and the birth of the consumer society. Paris had a leading role in the construction of the shopping centers. The print above depicts "Le Grand Bazar" in Paris, built by Henry Gutton between 1906 and 1907

In 1840, this 17th century wine bar called "La Raperouse" was taken over by entrepreneur Jules Lapérouse, who wanted to cater specifically to married gentlemen who wanted to discreetly entertain the Parisian courtesans with champagne and expensive gifts. He installed lavish private rooms for them upstairs and it instantly became an institution and thrived as one of the most fashionable establishments during the Belle Epoque. Still surviving in the attic today are “chambres particuliers”, which can be visited if you ask.

The sumptuous "Café de la Paix" opened June 30, 1862, to serve the Grand-Hôtel de la Paix (named after the nearby rue de la Paix), whose name was later shortened to Grand-Hôtel. It serviced visitors of Expo exhibition in 1867.

The restaurant "Le Train Bleu" located in the hall of the Gare de Lyon railway station in Paris, was originally created for the Exposition Universelle in 1900.

The Folies Bergère was a cabaret music hall, located in Paris, France. Established in 1869, the house was at the height of its fame and popularity from the 1890s' Belle Époque through the 1920s. The institution is still in business, and is still a strong symbol of French and Parisian life.

Folies-Bergere, Le Miroir by Jules Chére, 1892

Folies Bergère by Léopold Lélée, 1900

Le Chat Noir ("The Black Cat") was a nineteenth-century entertainment establishment, in the bohemian Montmartre district of Paris. It opened on 18 November 1881 at 84 Boulevard de Rochechouart by the impresario Rodolphe Salis, and closed in 1897 not long after Salis' death.

The Moulin Rouge is a cabaret in Paris, France. It was co-founded in 1889 by Charles Zidler and Joseph Oller. It is best known as the spiritual birthplace of the modern form of the can-can dance. The original house, which burned down in 1915, though the club's decor still contains much of the romance of fin de siècle France.

Moulin Rouge, Henri de Toulouse-lautrec, 1891

Moulin de La Galette, Bal poster by Tony M., 1900 ca.

La Loïe Fuller, Salomé poster by Georges de Feure, 1895

Folies de Marigny, Tous les Soirs, by V. Bocchino, 1896

La Folie-Pigalle poster by Weiluc (Lucien-Henri Weil), 1900

(Lucien-Henri Weil) Weiluc, LE FROU-FROU, 1900

Contrary to what is usually thought, it was not only the bourgeoisie who took advantage of all this technological advancement and new prosperity, but also the working class began to enjoy the economic growth thanks to new theories of the market economy. Based on such theories, manufacturers understood that if they wanted to earn more they had to produce and sell more. And in order to increase sales it was necessary that masses had more money to spend. Entrepreneurs, therefore, agreed to grant wage increases, raising per capita income in all developed countries.

Agriculture was aided both by new machines as well as artificial fertilisers and the quality and quantity of food improved. The industrial revolution made it possible the introduction of the assembly line by American entrepreneur Henry Ford in 1913 (who applied Frederick Taylor's theories for the first time). By this way, industrial efficiency was improved. Industry began producing for the first time large quantities of goods in series, differentiating itself from craftsmanship. Consumer goods such as clothing, footwear, furniture, household utensils, which were first handcrafted and sold by small retailers began to be offered by an ever-widening commercial network. The number of big department stores increased, new forms of payment such as instalments were created making expensive products more affordable. In support to this massive sales strategy, advertising posters were beginning to fill the walls of Paris - the capital and symbol of the Belle Epoque - and the pages of newspapers.

“Affiche Artistique” was the term that the French used to describe a poster that contained artistic expression. The art was so impressive to the public, people began to collect the posters as soon as they went up, which is why they are so scarce today. Artists such as Alphonse Mucha, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Jules Chéret, Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen, Alfred Choubrac, contributed to the creative body of work that became what some called “a free museum for the masses”. The craze for collecting these examples of modern art was even given the name, "affichomanie", meaning “artistic poster mania”. Collectors today pay hundreds, if not thousands for original prints of these rare posters.

Orphée aux Enfers, J. Offenbach by Jules Chéret, 1858

Skating-Theatre by by Jules Chéret, 1880

France - Champagne, Pierre Bonnard, 1891

l'Etendard Français, Bicyclettes et Tricycles by Jules Chéret, 1891

Divan Japonais, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, 1893

Peugeot, Burgull, 1901

Leona Dare poster by Jules Chéret, 1890. Leona Dare (1854– 1922) was an American trapeze artist and aerial acrobat, billed often as the "Queen of the Antilles" or the "Pride of Madrid". She was famous for her stunts on trapezes suspended from ascending balloons.

Newspaper advertisement for Leona Dare's ascents from Crystal Palace in London, 1888

Quinquine Dubonnet by Jules Chirét, 1895

The father of Art Nouveau style Alphonse Mucha, La Plume: Zodiac, 1896

The father of Art Nouveau styleAlphonse Mucha, Chemins de Fer Monaco-Monte Carlo, 1897

Bières de la Meuse by the father of Art Nouveau style Alphonse Mucha, 1897

Théâtre de l'Opéra by Jules Cheret, 1897

Teatro Regio Torino, Italian poster for Torino's Royal Theatre, by Giuseppe Boano, 1898

Absinthe Blanqui - Distillerie Blanqui, by artist Nover, 1900

Motocycles Comiot by Théophile Alexandre Steinlen, 1899

Jane Avril, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, 1893

Le Journal des Ventes by Georges de Feure, 1899

Duilio Cambellotti, Lampade Auer, 1898

Emporium, Italian cover magazine, 1899

Chiozza e Turchi Soap Manufacturers by Adolfo Hohenstein, 1899

ADOLF HOHENSTEIN, Onoranze a Volta, 1899

All this confidence in scientific progress and technology, the awareness of finally being able to create a prosperous future for everyone, being able to reduce social imbalances (thanks to the abundance of resources and raw materials from India and Africa) led to the great success of the Universal Exposition of Paris in 1900. Paris was the symbol of Belle Epoque at the time and it was decided to use the universal exhibition as a showcase to present the new inventions and the resources coming from the colonies. People came from all over to visit this huge fair. Among the inventions that visitors could admire there was: the moving walkway, the first escalator, the first subway, the first electric lamps on the city streets, the giant telescope, the Michelin Guide, the cinema, the first electric car and many more …

Distances were dramatically reduced thanks to new modern rails (which expanded hugely) and trains like the Orient Express in Europe and the Pullman Car in the US). Subway lines made their first appearance in big cities at the beginning of 20th Century and many existing automotive companies started their activity during the Belle Epoque: the RENAULT in France, the MERCEDES in Germany, the ROSS ROYCE in England and the FIAT (Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino) in Italy.

Advertising poster for FIAT (Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino) by Giovanni Carpanetto, 1899

The first illustration of Benz’s Patent-Motorwagen was published in 1888 in the Leipziger Illustrierten Zeitung

The “Golden Age” was a period of rapid economic growth also in the United States, an era when anyone was a potential Andrew Carnegie, and Americans who achieved wealth celebrated it as never before. Chicago experienced even greater growth, with a staggering ten-fold increase in population between 1870 and 1900.

New York City’s Fifth Avenue bustling with horse-drawn traffic and two motor cars, 1900

The Belle Époque was an era of progress and prosperity, the era of cultural exuberance, the era of Art Nouveau extravaganza ...

The architectural heritage of the Belle Epoque style, aka fin de siècle style, is still much appreciated around the world as a distinctive and unique elegant one. Walking around the historic old districts of big cities, we can enjoy some outstanding examples of this amazing style. And if we are lucky enough, we will be able to admire the ornately decorated façades with their bow-windows, corbels and magnificent balconies with balustrades or wrought ironwork, that still retain their original colour. What a sight for sore eyes!



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