Musicians and dancers from the Bourbonnais province at the Massif Central pavilion, 1937, Photographer unknown, Bibliothèque nationale de France, No Copyright - Other Known Legal Restrictions

Less focused on commerce than on information and demonstration, the Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques ran for six months and stretched out at the foot of the Eiffel Tower. Celebrating science, modernity and creativity in 45 international pavilions, this unique event boasted highlights such as Picasso’s Guernica and Raoul Dufy’s monumental mural La Fée Electricité (‘The Electricity Fairy’).

This picture commemorates the inauguration of the aeronautics pavilion, where visitors could marvel at technical and technological innovations, new materials, scale models of aircrafts and aerial photography.

Opening the aeronautics pavilion, 1937, photographer unknown, Bibliothèque nationale de France, No Copyright - Other Known Legal Restrictions
Opening the aeronautics pavilion, 1937, photographer unknown, Bibliothèque nationale de France, No Copyright - Other Known Legal Restrictions

The photographer’s unusual vantage point and intricate play with light and dynamics make this a striking and highly evocative image. The double plan of the composition is a glorious find: while the water cannons of the Trocadéro fountains take front of stage, the German pavilion with its characteristic columns provides extra depth.

Yet not all was innovative and forward-looking at the Exposition. This portrait of a “giant in the kingdom of Liliput” attests to the plethora of entertaining pastimes available to visitors who wanted to take a break from high art and serious science.