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Overseas France - Expo Brussels 1935

Overseas France at the Exhibition Expo Brussels 1935
© L'Epi

The unity of the French Empire seems to have been the dominant thought of the organisers of the Colonial Section of the French participation. For the first time perhaps, all the colonies of the Republic were united in a vast palace, under the guard of the tricolour flag. Some have regretted that this fact did not allow the representation of one or other colony to be developed as they would have wished; on the contrary, one can believe that the visitor left the Palais de la France d'Outre-Mer with a harmonious synthesis of the vast colonial domain of France in his mind; he was not dazed by figures, stunned by statistics or blinded by diagrams. Each colony had its own room around a flowery patio, summarising in an artistic setting its characteristics from the point of view of tourism and indigenous arts, too often sacrificed to the commercial side. The latter should not be underestimated, but it lends itself less to an original presentation.

The Overseas France Section was created by Governor Géraud, the French Government's Commissioner General for the Colonies, Jean Schwob d'Héricourt and Constant Teffri; the architects Olivier and Lambert, who had already built the French East Africa Pavilion in Vincennes.

The Palais de la France d'Outre-Mer stood in white at the edge of the Parc Forestier, which formed a green and flowery peristyle; in the lawn, an azure map of the world showed passers-by the space occupied on the world map by France's colonial possessions. And immediately, at the top of a few steps, the vestibule of honour opened onto a Moorish-style courtyard, flooded with flowers and sunlight.

Fetishes, in their own way, smiled from the pediment; the photographs of MM. Laval and Rollin, Ministers of the Colonies, were the only ornament of this hall, with two coloured panels by Charles de Fouqueray, representing exotic scenes, medals of colonial inspiration, struck at the Mint and the names of the great colonisers, attesting to the continuity of the French colonial policy: From Richelieu to Lyautey, via Montcalm, Bugeaud, Faidherbe, Brazza, Ferry, Galliéni, Lavigerie, Courbet, Doumer, Marchand, but so many glorious names would have to be mentioned. ..

A. O. F.

On the right, the room of French West Africa opened, decorated in red tones. A painting by the painter Henry Cayon, completed on the spot, showed the landing in Dakar of Mr Albert Lebrun and Mr André Maginot, who had come to inaugurate the Sotuba dam. A diorama by the same artist presented the Sansadiry dam, under construction on the Niger; its completion will allow the irrigation of a million hectares. And already, like a bright promise, indigenous farmers in the foreground were sorting the cotton their baskets are full of. Charts, plans, models framed the walls; on a vast luminous map, set in the centre of the floor, various indications were inscribed. Wood from the Ivory Coast, specimens of skins, some art objects inspired by landscapes

The neighbouring compartment was that of the African colonies under mandate: TOGO and CAMEROON, evoked in large decorative panels, luminous photographs, dioramas representing their main productions: coffee and wood.
Numerous documents on social, political and economic activity were displayed on shelves along the walls, as well as on a large table, in containers made by the natives of these countries.

Mr. Léon Truittard had found in two architect-decorators, Mr. Durand Jean and Mr. Hatton
Henri, a collaboration of quality. The decoration of this group was in bistre tones; the walls were covered with tapestries inspired by African motifs; frescoes by Jeanne Thill, a very beautiful series of photos of landscapes and types, some soberly presented products, composing a perfect outfit.

The "Old Colonies", as they are known, include Martinique, Guadeloupe with its dependencies: the Saintes, Marie-Galante, Saint-Barthélémy, and two thirds of the island of Saint-Martin, the other third being in the Netherlands. These are the remnants of an Equatorial France, which flourished in the 17th and 18th centuries, but which the treaties of Paris of 1763 and 1815 amputated in favour of Great Britain.

At the end of 1935, the tri-centenary of the French West Indies was celebrated. Christopher Columbus had discovered them during his voyages; in 1635, Richelieu founded the "Compagnie des Isles d'Amérique", and 35u Frenchmen landed in Guadeloupe.

The Exhibition of the Autonomous Colonies, with the appearance of an elegant salon, evoked these three hundred years of attachment to France; decorative motifs, representing the first caravels that anchored in their bays, surrounded a planispheric map. The economic information, gathered in a few documents, did not detract from the artistic aspect that M. Truittard, with the help of the architect-decorators Durand and Hatton, had arranged in Empire style, in honour of an illustrious Creole, the Empress Losephine. Paintings by Anne Hervé, watercolours by Ménardeau, furniture with simple lines, indirect lighting highlighting flasks filled with famous liqueurs, beautiful woods presented in the form of books; in the centre, an engraved glass orientation table. And large panels in muted colours, recalling the first encounters between France and the old colonies: Reunion, Tahiti, Martinique, Guyana...

The States of the Levant, although territories under the first category of mandate, insisted on coming to Brussels. Their Exhibition was intended to draw attention to the facilities for tourism and to the natural and architectural beauties of these countries.

Some beautiful silks from Damascus and modern furniture gave an idea of their artistic development.

Finally, the commercial documentation included samples and graphics. In other words, Syria, in an oriental salon, sumptuously decorated with carpets and fabrics, showed, under the direction of Mr. Berthelot, silverware, porcelain, embroidery, Damascus glass, and samples of agricultural products. A large photo showed the houses of Baalbek, assembled around the Roman columns, and as if under their guard. And the memory of the Crusades joined these witnesses to the majesty of Rome - the pictures of the Frankish castles attest to the presence of Frenchmen among the knights armed for the reconquest of the Sepulchre of Christ...

Splendid panels of precious wood evoked one of the main riches of this Colony.
A large tourist map indicated the attractions of these regions for travellers, and a large panorama of the Congo-Ocean Railway illustrated the edges.

Near the entrance, a photograph was adorned with a tricolour ribbon and in front of it, on the day of his official visit, Mr. Rollin, at the time Minister of the Colonies, bowed: this portrait was that of Mr. Renard, Governor of French Equatorial Africa, who "died on duty" in a terrible aeroplane accident. Around this moving image, the stand was decorated with beautiful precious woods, polished like dark mirrors; busts symbolised the dominant races in this province of the French colonial empire; showcases contained samples of the main products; cotton, coffee, wax, rubber. There were also curious specimens of indigenous arts, devoted for the most part to the satisfaction of feminine coquetries; headdresses and headgear made of pearls, blush containers, kohl styli, pearls, feather loincloths...
In their glass frames, butterflies with outstretched wings competed with the shimmering colours of the frescoes by Perrault, Hardy, Henry Séné, A. Herviault...

The Exhibition of Madagascar, particularly instructive, included geographical, ethnographic, economic and social documentation, and a sampling of the various raw materials provided by the big island, from the most common raw products to precious stones.
Madagascar is one of the last to be born in the French Colonial Empire," wrote Mr. Charles Dumont, Honorary Governor of the Colonies, Commissioner for Madagascar at the Brussels Exhibition.

Having then explained the economic development of the island, he concluded:
Thus, in spite of the economic difficulties, the tooling programme is being carried out, which will complete the task of making Madagascar a very beautiful and very large colony. It will allow the island, once the crisis is over, to further increase the active exchanges maintained during the period of prosperity with France and other countries.
It is to be hoped that Belgium will take a large part in this movement. In 1933, Belgian goods bought by Madagascar represented more than 3 million 180,000 francs, while Malagasy products sold to Belgium amounted to only 382 thousand francs.
The Red Island is therefore a serious customer for Belgian trade; and it comes to the Brussels Exhibition with the conviction that this splendid demonstration will contribute in a large measure to tightening the links which have already been so happily established between the two countries.
At the back of the Malagasy compartment, fabrics stretched a brightly coloured curtain, serving as a background for a bust of Governor General Cayla, as well as for some bronzes by Anna Quinquaud and Pierre Christophe. (The participation of artists in this exhibition of Overseas France was abundant and remarkable). "The products were very diverse: coffee, rice, cocoa, tapioca, precious stones, sparkling in the windows, where they were next to jewellery of a new and refined taste. Woven straws were also works of art in their own way; on the walls, photos and images informed the visitor of all the progress made in Madagascar, in terms of town planning, education, hygiene and assistance; Horn silhouettes, sculpted by students of the Madagascan applied art workshops in Tananarive, were displayed next to paintings by Heidmann, Supparo, Gaboriaud, and etchings printed on paper from the island, pastels, statuettes; the commissioners of the section, MM. Dumont and Bruand, had, as we can see, made the most of the limited space at their disposal.


The Indo-China stand at the Brussels World Fair occupied about 200 square metres. From the entrance, one could see lacquered columns, crowned with golden capitals and arranged in a circular movement, delimiting the central part on which an ochre cloth canopy was displayed.

The frescoes were signed by renowned Indochinese painters: Fouqueray, Lièvre, Virac, Rollet... Representations of gestures and attitudes of the indigenous worker in the landscapes where his work is accomplished, on the delta lands, on the banks of rivers, on the mountains.

And to complete this luminous evocation, the paintings of the Hanoi School of Fine Arts, so poetically realistic, were lined up along the picture rail.

Between the columns, showcases presented the products of Indo-China: rice, tea, rubber, gums and resins, textiles, ores, and handicrafts: basketry, sparterie, tablets, silks...
In the central rotunda, under the subdued light of the canopy, a few masterpieces of traditional Annamese cabinet making, renewed by French teaching, stood out on a sumptuous carpet from a Tonkin factory.

The visitor who wished to learn about Indo-China could find there all the books on the subject.
This architectural and decorative ensemble had been created by M. Prévôt according to the model and the indications of the master Fouqueray.

Because of the resources of all kinds at its disposal, Algeria was to have an important participation in the Brussels International Exhibition.

The Algerian curators, understanding the interest of the Exhibition, did not hesitate to make a special effort to present, as completely as possible, the work accomplished by France on the other side of the Mediterranean. In an impressive presentation, this participation of the new France was divided into two parts: one showing the public the achievements made by the Administration in the field of public works and colonisation, the other highlighting the economic and tourist life of Algeria, this latter participation being organised by the Algerian Office of Economic and Tourist Action. Each of these sections occupied a vast room, linked to the other by an imposing hall in which the organisers presented casts of some of the most characteristic masterpieces in the museums of Cherchell: "Isis" and "Apollo" and Djemila's "Draped Woman", as well as works by students of the Algiers Academy. One saw there famous mosaics: those of Timgad, Djemileh, old engravings coming from the Museum of Algiers.

It can be said that Algeria's participation was essentially artistic. Moreover, great artists such as the painters Charles Brouty, Grand Prix of Algeria, and Paul Elie Dubois, Grand Prix National, had been chosen to decorate the rooms. P.-E. Dubois, in particular, had painted majestic, disturbing Tuaregs...

The general ornamentation had been entrusted to one of the most important specialised firms in Paris and the organisers called upon the most modern procedures to present in a practical and pleasant way, in the form of dioramas, pictorial maps, luminous and animated graphics, the productions of Algeria or the works carried out by the Administration. There is no doubt that the Algerian section was among the most original and lively of the French participation.

This concern for art had not made us forget the economic and commercial activities of the great colony: Messrs Falck and Geiser had summarised the work accomplished for the equipment of the country, the protection and training of the indigenous population; and on the other hand, the results of this fruitful action. The official Algerian organisations had collaborated extensively in the documentation and presentation of this very complete exhibition. Wines, oils, cereals and carpets were on display. And tourists were invited to visit not only Algeria, but also the Sahara, which had become a route, not a barrier.

Algeria was also represented in the soukhs where, in the street reserved for this country, about twenty craftsmen sold carpets, lace, jewellery, embroidered leather or chiselled copper of their own making; on the other hand, in a pavilion near the Algerian section, one could taste free of charge the wines of great vintages produced by the vineyards of the Tell, and an Algerian restaurant introduced the public to local dishes, such as couscous and mechoui.

The participation of Algeria, very complete and varied, showed in an objective way what exactly this new France is, which maintains important economic relations with Belgium.

The Moroccan exhibition aimed to show the work done by the French Protectorate.

Apart from graphics showing the progress made in the field of town planning and social policy, a place was reserved for Agriculture and in particular for the standardisation of agricultural products.

Finally, visitors were particularly interested in the development of tourism and the exhibition of products exported abroad. Like Messrs Cottret and Le Guyader, for the A.E.F., Messrs Nacivet and Roussel had to limit themselves to a synthetic presentation: the material was too rich. In a setting of luxurious carpets, superb arms, engraved or inlaid with mother-of-pearl, and artfully decorated vases, the organisers of this section had brought together samples of wines and cereals; eloquent graphics and fortunately chosen photographs attested to the colonising efforts of the Republic, and to the marvellous things accomplished over there by the genius of General Lyautey. Agriculture, animal husbandry, education, hygiene, forestry or railways, the visitor immediately received clear and precise notions; several maps, one of which was in relief, showed travellers the many attractions of the Cherifian empire; a diorama exposed the various activities of the Commercial Office in Morocco; another, due to the brush of M. Belliot, retraced the picturesque Draa region - the last one to be pacified. The Commissariat des Arts Indigènes, directed by Mr. Prosper Ricard, had brought together various objects from this province and mannequins wearing the very varied and sometimes very rich costumes worn by the women of the Draa.

The organisation of the country and the methodical exploitation of its riches have not excluded the preservation, in all their beauty, of the artistic treasures that the Moghreb still conceals - testimonies of a thousand-year-old civilisation, which took on its decisive physiognomy in the medieval period.

The visitors to the Moroccan section were able to see, once again, the colonizing efforts of France, respectful of the customs and original culture of the peoples it guides or administers.


The proximity of Europe had developed tourism in Tunisia since before the war. The Tunisian section of the exhibition featured dioramas of the most interesting characteristic sites. The main products: olive oil and wine were particularly well represented, and the elements of the balance of trade were established by clear and precise statistics and graphs.

There was, moreover, an air of kinship between this compartment and the neighbouring Algerian one; the products of the soil are similar; also in this Tunisian stand, harmoniously arranged by the care of M. Rougé, the visitor was attracted to the Tunisian stand. In this Tunisian stand, harmoniously arranged by Mr. Rougé, the visitor would prefer to linger in front of the works of native craftsmen: lace, Nabeul pottery, ceramics, jewellery worked like lace, filigree as light as a breath, as well as in front of a diorama by the painter Vergeaud and frescoes by Mrs. Jeanne Thill, summarizing the various aspects of the country, its mining industry, its resources and the attractions that it offers to the traveller.

Incomparable beauty of the landscapes, moving ruins of the Mediterranean coast evocative of the Roman and Punic wars, poignant charm of the deserts populated by legends: Tunisia brought us all this, in a limited but synthetic participation, very happily conceived and arranged.

© Le Livre d'Or de l'Exposition Universelle de Bruxelles 1935