Edition 2024



1 July - 29 September 2024

10.00 AM - 07.30 PM



The history of rail catering began with station buffets, however, meals were served on board trains as early as the 1860s in the United States, before gradually spreading throughout the world. In Europe, the Compagnie internationale des wagons-lits was a pioneer in the field. Its dining cars and their representation embody a central figure in the imagery and imagination associated with railroads. Combined with the arts de la table, refined service and interior decoration, food formed the cornerstone of railway luxury whose golden age occured between the two world wars. The 1950s saw the emergence of new formulae and many innovations that challenged the traditional approach to on-board catering: buffet cars, trolley services and meal-trays responded to changes in passengers' eating habits. The 1970s marked a significant break, with the disappearance of in-train catering derived from the airline model and the modernity it enshrined. In more ways than one, eating on board a train represents a revolution in motion!

The photographs and archives in the exhibition come from the collections of the former Compagnie internationale des wagons-lits and the SNCF Group's Service Archives Documentation. Halfway between industrial and advertising photography, the primary function of these images is to embody modernity by showcasing endless novelty. Of course, the companies show us what they want us to see: a fabricated reality of an ideal, uncluttered railway world. However, they also reveal a history of innovation and work, as well as a history of aesthetics, culture and design. More than mere reflections of successive innovations, these photographs document their epoch. Moreover, they shape the different eras as much as they bear witness to them.

Arthur Mettetal

Curator: Arthur Mettetal.

Exhibition coproduced by the Endowment Fund Orient Express and the Rencontres d'Arles.

With support from Newrest Wagons-Lits.

Publication: WAGON-BAR. Une petite histoire du repas ferroviaire, Éditions Textuel, 2024.

  • Institutional partners

    • République Française
    • Région Provence Alpes Côté d'Azur
    • Département des Bouches du Rhône
    • Arles
    • Le Centre des monuments nationaux est heureux de soutenir les Rencontres de la Photographie d’Arles en accueillant des expositions dans l’abbaye de Montmajour
  • Main partners

    • Fondation LUMA
    • BMW
    • SNCF
    • Kering
  • Media partners

    • Arte
    • Lci
    • Konbini
    • Le Point
    • Madame Figaro
    • France Culture