Colonial propaganda in the 1930s

Colonial propaganda in the 1930s

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  • "It is with 76,900 men that France ..."


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


  • A Sudanese woman seated surrounded by visitors.


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Title: "It is with 76,900 men that France ..."

Author : MILLERET B. (-)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 275 - Width 310

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas.

Storage location: Quai Branly Museum - Jacques Chirac website

Contact copyright: © RMN-Grand Palais (quai Branly museum - Jacques Chirac) / Hervé Lewandowski

Picture reference: 93-005939 / 75.5183

"It is with 76,900 men that France ..."

© RMN-Grand Palais (quai Branly museum - Jacques Chirac) / Hervé Lewandowski

International colonial exhibition. Around the world in one day.

© Contemporary Collections

To close

Title: A Sudanese woman seated surrounded by visitors.

Author : BLANCHET (-)

Creation date : 1931

Date shown: 1931

Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0

Technique and other indications: Series: Paris, international colonial exhibition of 1931.

Storage location: Architecture and heritage multimedia library website

Contact copyright: © Ministry of Culture / Médiathèque du Patrimoine, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Paul Castelnausite web

Picture reference: 08-503504 / BLT0034V

A Sudanese woman seated surrounded by visitors.

© Ministry of Culture / Médiathèque du Patrimoine, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Paul Castelnau

Publication date: April 2008

Doctorate in Art History

Historical context

1931, the culmination of a grandiose project

The tradition of colonial exhibitions is rooted in the first half of the XIXe century. The event, which welcomed 8 million actual visitors, resulted in significant economic benefit.

Image Analysis

The Greater France

"The essential aim of the Exhibition is to make the French aware of their Empire". The words of the Minister of Colonies, Paul Reynaud, clearly revealed the propagandist aim of the Colonial Exhibition of 1931. It was dedicated to demonstrating the immense economic potential of the colonial empire and to celebrating the greatness of the "Greater France" through a gigantic popular event. The first document, which looks like a colonial propaganda painting, perfectly illustrates this desire to seduce metropolitan residents and reassure them of the supposed virtues of colonialism. In order to convince visitors, the poster for the Colonial Exhibition of 1931 promised them to go around the world in half a day. The illustration includes the representation of different types of population, meant to sum up the variety of races and cultures of the colonial world. Throughout the demonstration, which lasted more than six months, the spirit of colonial propaganda had been nurtured by the organization of more than two hundred congresses. Most of them focused on enhancing the teaching of future colonial agents, in particular by promoting the study of indigenous languages. The latest document also reveals that the spirit of the propaganda at the 1931 Exposition was to receive foreign personalities, representative of the colonial world. This photograph shows a Sudanese woman dressed in her traditional clothes, surrounded by visitors from the West. His sitting position seems to tacitly reveal the subordination of the black race to the white race, according to the founding principles of colonial thought of which the years of the interwar years represent the apogee.


The scope of the colonial message

A grandiose work of colonial propaganda in the metropolis, the Exhibition of 1931 can be considered as one of the major events of the interwar period which equaled, by its prestige, the Universal Exhibition of 1900. A real highlight. scene of a colonial republic project, it expresses the necessarily ethnocentric vision of colonization. During the 1930s, which represented the pinnacle of colonial culture, this desire for imperialism created political unanimity between the parties of the French right and left. It encountered only weak opposition forces, embodied in particular by a counter-exhibition organized by the CGT and supported by surrealist artists on the sidelines of the 1931 Exhibition. This great popular event of international scope also marked the start of new measures to control overseas territories, against the backdrop of the European economic crisis. The Colonial Ministry was at the origin of propaganda committees for colonial products. Paradoxically, this was also a time of tighter control over immigration to mainland France. By imposing its values ​​on others, France had claimed to deliver the subjugated territories from slavery and in return bring the benefits of Western civilization. The colonial intention was always openly nationalist in nature and colonization praised as one of the values ​​of the French Republic. At the end of this apogee of colonial imperialism, then of its rout in the following decades, contemporary historiography today proposes to question the supposed civilizing mission of France in its colonies, to underline its contradictions. as much as the effects.

  • Colonial exhibition of 1931
  • colonial history
  • propaganda
  • colonies
  • imperialism
  • Third Republic
  • public opinion


Charles-Robert AGERON "The colonial exhibition of 1931: republican myth or imperial myth", in Pierre NORA (ed.), Places of memories, t. 1, The RepublicParis, Gallimard, 1984, reedited Quarter, 1997.

To cite this article

Claire MAINGON, "Colonial propaganda in the 1930s"

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