This imposing gallery was designed as the main concourse of the Palais, between the Assembly Hall and the main façade, overlooking the broad and stately Court of Honour around which the main Palais is built.
It is difficult not be impressed by the stately proportions of the Salle des Pas Perdus and the changing moods from the mottled light through the high vertical windows, and by its sense of history – how many famous feet have passed this way? – yet it remains essentially modern and of our times.
The mood here would have been darker in the late 1930s, as war clouds gathered over Europe and Asia. Delegates from the ever-dwindling number of countries in the League of Nations would huddle here, puffing on their pipes during breaks from Assembly debates on the latest international crisis.
At each end of the gallery stand towering monumental grille doors in the Art Nouveau style. Hailed as masterpieces of artistic ironwork, they were created by a highly-regarded family firm in Geneva, Wanner and Company (which also helped decorate the city centre’s Cornavin Station). Worked cleverly into the design of the grilles are the English and French monograms of the League – LON and SDS. But by the time they were installed, in February 1939, the organization on which so many hopes had been placed was on the verge of passing into history.
Today, its mood is much brighter and the Hall’s wonderful proportions make it an ideal venue for numerous exhibitions and displays.
Even on a quiet day, there is the feeling that you are at the heart of the Palais. It is worth taking a few minutes to turn through 360 degrees. Through the huge windows is the wide Court of Honour with the Library wing to your left, the Council wing to the right, Lake Geneva in the mid-ground and – on a clear day – Mont Blanc in the distance.
But the Salle des Pas Perdus is rarely silent these days. It is the main passageway for delegates and staff hurrying between the older part of the Palais to the modern conference rooms and offices of the New Building.
As you leave the gallery, on the wall of the Assembly Hall – looking down to remind you of the building’s true purpose – are two vast surrealist murals, War and Peace by the French artist Anne Carlu (1895-1970) which mirror the themes of the Hall’s original bronze doors.