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

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  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!

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      #ProvenancePeek: Winslow Homer at the Met

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