Art, Exhibitions and Installations, Getty Research Institute

Colorful Board Game Turns the French Colonies into Child’s Play

This unusual game aimed to enlist French children in building the nation’s colonial economy

Trading Game: France - Colonies / O.P.I.M.

Trading Game: France—Colonies, 1941, O.P.I.M. (Office de publicite et d’impression), Breveté S.G.D.G. Lithograph on linen, 22 7/8 x 32 1/4 in. The Getty Research Institute, 970031.6

In the exhibition Connecting Seas: A Visual History of Discoveries and Encounters, a whole section features educational tools used to teach children about the colonial lands serving the European motherland. One of the most vivid renditions is this jeu des échanges, or “trading game.”

Made in France at the outbreak of World War II, the game sought to educate children about the colonial world supporting the French economy. With tokens printed in vivid colors to represent places and natural resources in regions colonized by the French, from North Africa to Oceania to southeast Asia, this game encapsulated the mighty business opportunities that lay ahead for adventurous explorers willing to embark for faraway colonial lands.

As described in the rules at the center of the board, the underlying purpose of the game was to admire, through play, the greatness of the French colonial undertaking. The colonization of a land was symbolically achieved first by hoisting the French flag on its soil, then by the establishment of a hospital, a school, and ultimately a harbor. But the ultimate win was to export the rich natural resources of the colonies back to France by boat. Images on the game provide a vivid picture of the vast variety of resources, including animals, plants, and minerals, that the colonies provided to France from all around the globe.

Gallery II of the Getty Research Institute Galleries / Connecting Seas

The board game (just to right of center) in the galleries of the exhibition Connecting Seas at the Getty Research Institute

Tokens of Asian resources / Jeu des Echanges

Colorful tokens depict rich resources to be harnessed around the globe. Here, Asian and African countries with their bounty—rice, cotton, rubber, coal, wood, oil, even wild animals (fauves)

Tokens for colonial achievement / Jeu des Echanges

Tokens of colonial achievement

Cut-out figures of French colonists / Jeu des Echanges

Paper cut-outs for game play

Perils of indolence and disease / Jeu des Echanges

To be avoided at all costs: paresse (indolence) and épidéme (epidemic of disease)

Trading Game: France - Colonies, vertical orientation / O.P.I.M.

Trading Game: France—Colonies (arrayed vertically, with tokens at bottom), 1941, O.P.I.M. (Office de publicite et d’impression), Breveté S.G.D.G. Lithograph on linen, 22 7/8 x 32 1/4 in. The Getty Research Institute, 970031.6

Tagged , , , , , Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  1. M. Cohen
    Posted March 1, 2014 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    Fascinating post. You say the game comes from the outbreak of World War II, but I note that the year given for publication is 1941, after the fall of France to Nazi Germany in 1940. Was this perhaps published by the Vichy government as propaganda, to encourage “work, family, and fatherland,” or did the design of the game predate the fascist takeover of France?

    • Isotta Poggi
      Posted March 4, 2014 at 11:05 am | Permalink

      This game was undoubtedly created in the context of the political propaganda narrative of the Vichy period. However, because of its printing credits, it cannot be directly attributed to the Vichy government. For such game, see instead the “Jeu de l’Empire Francais” at: with Vichy imprint (and portrait of Marshal Pétain at square no. 72).

      • M. Cohen
        Posted March 16, 2014 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

        Interesting—thanks for the reply!

  2. cherie lieberman
    Posted March 27, 2014 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    What a fascinating entry into an amazing exhibit! Thanks, Ms. Poggi!

Post a Comment

Your email is never published or shared. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

  • Facebook

  • Twitter

  • Tumblr

    • photo from Tumblr

      It’s been 125 years since Van Gogh’s death, today we celebrate his life’s work.

      5 Ways to See Van Gogh’s Irises

      Through observations, visitor conversations, and some sneaky eavesdropping, we’ve compiled the top 5 ways people enjoy this painting.

      1. In a Crowd
        One of the most obvious ways that people see the painting is in a crowd. The gallery is almost always filled, and you might have to wait before you can get up close. The anticipation builds as you start in the back row, and slowly move until you are close enough to see the brushstrokes of Van Gogh’s thick paint.

      2. Online
        David from Colorado said that this was his first visit, but he had already seen the painting online. In addition to being available through the Getty’s Open Content program, the painting is often seen on social media. Just search #irises on Instagram for a taste of the painting’s popularity. 

      3. Alone
        If you arrive right at 10 a.m. when the museum opens, the quiet gallery provides a perfect backdrop to really examine the painting. Solitude and seclusion gives the gallery a sense of intimacy. 

      4. Multiple Times
        Repeat visits can give rise to multiple interpretations. Is it a melancholy or joyous painting? Expressive or depressive? 

      5. Internationally
        Visitors from all across the world viewed this famous Van Gogh. In just one hour you can hear multiple languages—French, Italian, Chinese, Korean, German, and more. Irises seems to rise above cultural boundaries—a Dutch painting inspired by Japanese ukiyo-e prints—to strike an emotional resonance amongst all viewers. 

      What is your favorite lens to view Van Gogh’s work through? 


  • Flickr