Representation of a Togolese village at the Colonial Exhibition

Representation of a Togolese village at the Colonial Exhibition

To close

Title: Scene of everyday life in a village in Central Africa.

Author : HERVIAULT André (1884 - 1969)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 44 - Width 80

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas. Sketch for a painted panel of the Pavilion of Social Works depending on the flag of Togo Cameroon, Colonial Exhibition of 1931.

Storage location: Quai Branly Museum - Jacques Chirac website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - J.-G. Berizzi - All rights reserved website

Picture reference: 01-009437 / 75.1999.1.2

Scene of everyday life in a village in Central Africa.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - J.-G. Berizzi - All rights reserved

Publication date: April 2008

Doctorate in Art History

Historical context

Togo, a colony exposed in 1931

Like Cameroon, Togo was part of the African territories placed by the League of Nations under mandate administered by France. The smallest territory in French-speaking West Africa, this country had suffered from the slave trade since the XVIe century. Attached to the general government of French West Africa in 1936, this country finally gained its independence in 1960.

Image Analysis

Representation of indigenous populations

This sketch for a painted panel is the work of artist André Herviault. Entitled Scene of everyday life in a village in Central Africa, it represents the activities of an indeterminate and timeless Togolese village. The image shows the members of this indigenous population, in the quiet of their "primitive" existence, busy with the secular activities of rural life. Naked or dressed in a simple loincloth, some are busy watching young children, preparing food on the fire or, simply idle, chatting in a circle. In the distance, stand out the beaten earth huts with straw roofs, typical of this region of Africa, around tropical-type vegetation. In this popular genre scene, nothing is mentioned of the colonial presence in the territory. Above all, we can feel in this representation the will of the French painter André Herviault to approach his subject with an ethnographic concern. Above all, the artist seems to have sought to deliver a testimony that provides information on the cultural and ancestral practices of the colony rather than on its agrarian riches. This image therefore appears to be a merely decorative ensemble, rather than a work of colonial propaganda supposed to deliver an economic or moral message to visitors to the Exhibition. It nevertheless implies the apologetic vision of a civilizing France of the extra-Western colonial world. The large final painted panel resulting from this sketch was intended for a pavilion of an explanatory and propagandist nature, that of Social Works depending on the flag of Togo Cameroon.


From image to spectacle: the presence of indigenous Africans at the Colonial Exhibition

The images and decorations of the African pavilions at the Colonial Exhibition of 1931 were accompanied by real staging requiring the hiring of nationals of the French colonies. The organizers of the demonstration had indeed called on a large number of indigenous people to appear around the pavilions and to reconstruct the cultural atmosphere of the administered territories. Thousands of extras had been recruited, from African artisans to Arab horsemen, to entertain visitors to the Exhibition. This practice already existed at the time of the universal exhibitions which included sections reserved for the colonies, in particular in 1867, which offered visitors to taste the joys of the exotic change of scenery by taking advantage of dance performances or catering services provided by native staff. In 1931, however, the infamous human zoos were different in nature from the colonial settings of the 19th century.e century.

  • exoticism
  • Colonial exhibition of 1931
  • colonial history
  • overseas
  • League of Nations (League of Nations)


Nicolas BANCEL, Pascal BLANCHARD and Laurent GERVEREAUImages and settlementsAchac-BDIC, Paris, 1993.Charles-Robert AGERON (dir.)History of colonial FranceVolume 21914-1990, Paris, edited by Armand Colin, 1990

To cite this article

Claire MAINGON, "Representation of a Togolese village at the Colonial Exhibition"

Video: Walk in Africa Village, No Electricity Okéloukoutou, Oke. Togo West Africa