"Around the world in a day", a colonial exhibition

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International colonial exhibition. Paris 1931. Around the world in one day.

© Contemporary Collections

Publication date: April 2008

Historical context

The constitution of the French colonial empire

Since the 1890s, the constitution of the French colonial empire has met with no resistance in public opinion. The firsts took place in Marseille in 1906 and 1922.

In 1931, the International Colonial Exhibition was held in Vincennes. Like the previous ones, it is presented as a "magnificent picture book" intended to celebrate the virtues of colonial trade.

Image Analysis

An anthropological reading

Desmeures has placed in the center of the poster four representatives of the world as it can be walked through in a few hours by visitors. These silhouettes are reminiscent of the ancient iconography of the "four parts of the world". We note the anonymous character of the figures, reduced to easily identifiable stereotypes: refinement of Asia, "primitive" character of the Black and the Indian, the elegance of the North African. It is striking to note the presence of an American Indian, a continent unrelated to the French colonial empire. Oceania is absent from it although France has owned Tahiti and New Caledonia since the 19th century. It is therefore the symbolically strongest colonies that are shown.

The costume of the Asian refers to the dresses of Chinese "scholars", present in images since the 19th century, a sign of an advanced degree of civilization. The face concealed by a turban, the North African is also in conformity with the illustrations of the XIXth century, evoking the reputed “mysterious”, “cunning”, even “deceitful” temperament of the North Africans. Its dominant position in the image reflects the anthropological conceptions of the 1930s, which equate North Africans with the white race and give them superiority over other colonized peoples. It is also due to the fact that French Algeria, whose centenary was celebrated with great pomp a year earlier, is a department, Tunisia and Morocco being only protectorates. In comparison, the Indian and the black present a striking destitution, to be compared to the status of French Equatorial Africa, colonial land.

In the background there are two pavilions. On the right, the temple of Angkor Wat, present in exhibitions since 1889, legitimizes the French presence in Asia, considered as the heir to the Khmer civilization that the French peace rehabilitates. On the left, the silhouette of a minaret surmounted by the tricolor flag illustrates the vision of a French Maghreb, dear to Marshal Lyautey.


Image propaganda

The success of the Colonial Exhibition is contained in this poster promising "a trip around the world in one day". It reassures the visitor about the state of the empire placed under the protective and civilizing banner of a France which can universally affirm its values.

At the same time, advertising used the same representations and took up the dominant discourse despite some opposition, such as the exhibition The Truth About the Colonies surrealists and communists in 1925.

Even if it does not summarize, on its own, the situation at the end of colonialism in France, Desmeures's poster is therefore very representative of the propagandist role played by images at that time.

  • Algeria
  • colonial history
  • tricolour flag
  • exoticism
  • Colonial exhibition of 1931
  • East
  • publicity
  • Third Republic
  • poster


Collective International Colonial Exhibition and Overseas Countries , Paris, 1931, general report presented by the Governor General to the Paris Exhibition, Imprimerie Nationale, 1933-1934, 7 volumes, 9 volumes. Collective Catalog of the exhibition Images and colonies , Museum of Contemporary History Paris, BDIC-ACHAC, 1993. Charles-Robert AGERON "The Colonial Exhibition of 1931" in Pierre NORA (under the direction of) Memorial place , tome I “The Republic” Gallimard, 1984, reed. “Quarto”, 1996. BOUCHE Denise, History of French colonization, Paris, Fayard, 1991. HODEIR Catherine and PIERRE Michel,The Brussels Colonial Exhibition, Editions Complexe, 1991. GIRARDET Raoul, The Colonial Idea in France reprint Paris, Hachette coll. "Plural", 1986.

To cite this article

Stéphanie CABANNE, "" Around the world in one day ", a colonial exhibition"

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  1. Clach

    You are not right. I invite you to discuss. Write in PM.

  2. Ciqala

    The agha, so seemed to me too.

  3. Arashigrel

    A fascinating message

  4. Chaviv

    Brilliant phrase and it is duly

  5. Osric

    hmm ... I was expecting MUCH MORE pictures after reading the description))) although that's enough)

  6. Merwyn

    This is ridiculous.

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