"To the glory of the Colonial Empire"

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Title: Distribution of awards at the 1889 World's Fair.

Author : GERVEX Henri (1852 - 1929)

Creation date : 1897

Date shown: 1889

Dimensions: Height 615 - Width 982

Technique and other indications: Commissioned by the State Oil on canvas

Storage location: National Museum of the Palace of Versailles (Versailles) website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - Popovichsite web

Picture reference: 75EE1600 / MV 5486; RF 1198

Distribution of awards at the 1889 World's Fair.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - Popovitch

Publication date: March 2016

Historical context

The World's Fairs, since the first in London in 1851, have been an opportunity for all the organizing countries to demonstrate their power and influence. The 1880s were indeed marked by a resumption of colonial expansion (Tunisia, Tonkin, Madagascar) which aroused the hostility of part of public opinion and of many Republican leaders.

Image Analysis

Gervex received the commission for this gigantic canvas shortly after the Exhibition. From the outset, it was intended for the Versailles museum, and he took several years to complete it (for this purpose a special workshop was built in the Sablons plain, in Neuilly). It commemorates one of the important moments of the Exhibition, when the President of the Republic, Sadi Carnot, presents the awards obtained by exhibitors from the French colonies in the main nave of the Palais deIndustrie. Before his eyes parade the delegations, in a picturesque procession full of exoticism (Kabyle tents and Tonkinese pagodas were also exhibited on the Esplanade des Invalides).

On the left, we can see the officials' platform, decked out with tricolor flags, with, at the top of the stairs, in the center, slightly on the front, the President of the Republic, recognizable by the large cordon of the Legion of honor. Various other constituencies form the audience: you can recognize military uniforms or judges' robes. The indigenous delegations - Algerian, Tunisian, Senegalese, Cochinchinese - parade: symbolically placed in the center, a black carrying a red and green flag is dressed in a blue, white and red costume which represents the French national colors.


By its very subject, this painting by Gervex is characteristic of the propaganda surrounding the colonial policy of France. For the republicans in power, colonization must assert French power on a world scale and have the grandeur of a civilizing mission. So the 1889 Exhibition offered the opportunity to mobilize public opinion indifferent or even hostile to this ambition. By discovering the 3,000 colonial exhibitors present in Paris, twice as many as in 1878, the French have every reason to be seduced by the diversity and exoticism of the natives who have come to stay in their reconstituted villages. They can take pride in a country that claims to exercise a liberating and modernizing role in the four corners of the world.
Besides the centenary of the Revolution and triumphant industry, the 1889 World's Fair therefore celebrated the glory of the colonial empire. In this it already foreshadows the major exhibitions of the interwar period.

  • colonial history
  • tricolour flag
  • exoticism
  • Universal exhibitions
  • Third Republic
  • colonial troops
  • Carnot (Sadi)
  • London


Collective Henri Gervex, 1852-1929 , Bordeaux, Galerie des Beaux-Arts Paris, Musée Carnavalet and Nice, Musée des Beaux-Arts, 1992-1993. History of colonial France (3 vol.) Armand Colin, 1992.Raoul GIRARDET The Colonial Idea in France Paris, Hachette, rééd.coll. “Pluriel” 1986.

To cite this article

Barthélemy JOBERT and Pascal TORRÈS, "" To the glory of the Colonial Empire ""

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