When boys had the best toys and girls kept the home fires burning
“Des Jouets et des homes” (Of Toys and Men) at the Grand Palais in Paris presents a history of toys in the Western world and spotlights their importance in children’s education right from birth” until January 23, 2012.
Boys had the neatest things to play with growing up. Coming from a family of girls, the closest we got to toys outside the realm of dolls was exploring the woods around our house, making up adventure or mystery stories and building forts. We were lucky.
The “Of Toys and Men” exhibit, shows how much toys are a defining influence in early childhood development. The exhibits are thematic, not chronological. The themes are design, animals, lifelike toys, gender bias and the media age. They also include ritualized gifts, animals, vocations, war toys and an interactive exhibition.
Plato is quoted as saying that girls imitate the comfort of the home or the convent. Boys are into war and building things to meet the challenges and discovery of the world at large and its threats.
At the beginning of the exhibition, my eyes were drawn immediately to a framed of an angel. Usually you see Santa with a sack of toys either before or after he shimmies down a chimney. In this water color by Gustave Doré (“La nuit de Noël”), the angel floats above the rooftop, carefully dropping each toy down the opening. This was the last photo I took during the exhibit. Even without a flash, no photography is allowed.
In a poster, the department store, Bazaar de l’Hotel de Ville (BHV) adapts the icon of a U.S. carbonated beverage company for its Christmas campaign in the 1920s. The red coated and bearded Santa drops presents from a plane. Later in the exhibit the commercialization of Christmas takes off in the automated toys section with the actual prop. The toy is Santa is in the airplane for the 1925 Christmas window display.
Museums from England, the United States and France and private collectors contribute to this exhibit. The Victoria & Albert in London sent over the oldest rocking horse (1610) known to exist. A triptych (1450-1475) shows a child on a stick horse.
Around 1900 a French firm manufactured mechanical toys at the rate of 800,000 a year. The toys created by Fernand Martin in the exhibit are on loan from the Arts & Metier museum in Paris (for future museum visiting reference).
Be a Doll
Before you go up to the next level, take your photo. Stand or sit in front of one of the two screens for a photo. Your face will be added to a costume. You and your new persona will appear on the wall in various styles for an audience waiting for their own new persona to appear. You might be dressed in jeans, a prom dress, Barbie skirt and shoes or as a buccaneer.
Toys given to boys and the theme transportation begin the second level of the exhibition. The displays include a very impressive Aston Martin DB5 built for Prince Andrew of England to satisfy his desire for autonomy. It was the only one ever made with all the gadgetry of James Bond movies (Goldfinger) 1964 and Thunderball (1965).
Viewed subjectively, it seems the boats, cars and trains that boys grow up with prepare them for an imaginative world. A world that also prepares many of them for the strategies of war and untimely death. In some Western countries, those preparations are in a new world, uni-sex.
War and Conflict as a Toy
Two film examples of toys involved in conflicts are excerpts from “Babes in Toyland” and “La Revolte des jouets” (The Revolte of the Toys), 1947 Czechoslavakia Hermina Tirlova, 2 min 28. There is a hilarious extract from “Panique au village”, 2009 Vincent Patar and Stéphane Aubier, 1min 41. In this sample, the horse is more intelligent than the cowboy and the Indian.
References to the Age of Media
Toys are presented suggesting that the media age exploits childhood favorites. A childhood hero can now be used as pleasure, fantasy and a money source. Two examples are from France and the United States.
In nineteenth century France, figures from Jean de La Fontaine fables (the lion and rat) are used on lottery cards. “Bonne Nuit les Petits” from France and Walt Disney’s characters Mickey Mouse in 1928 and Snow White in 1938 spawn spin offs and themed products.
In one of the last rooms is an exhibit called “Poupées de la Memoire”. The display explanations have not been translated. The two dolls in the display case belonged to victims in two separate, tragic deaths. Both dolls, however, live on as a memory. They are now in the collection of the New York Historical Society.
One doll is a gift from a surviving sister in the1904 fire on the General Slocum steamer. The other doll is Alice in Wonderland donated by the grandparents of a girl killed September 11, 2001.
Passage of Time
The last room is about the passage of time. Toys are given up, saved, stored away and often, still remembered. This idea is summed up in an excerpt from “Toy Story 3″. However, even as adults, we still have our toys. Walking through this exhibit, “Les Jouets et des homes”, and listening to its audio guide, the comments and impressions for this blog entry are written on today’s adult toy: an iPhone notepad.
I observed that the age range for this exhibit is babes in arms to the stopped-counting-long-ago generation.
As you enter each new room, the theme changes. The explanatory signs are in French, English and Spanish. I recommend picking up the well-done audio guide for five euros. The online audio guide download is only in French.
Galeries nationales of the Grand Palais (Réunion des musées nationaux)
3, avenue du Général-Eisenhower 8th arr.
Open: Every day (except Tuesday) from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., late night on Wednesday until 10 p.m.
They anticipate an early opening at 9 a.m. instead of 10 p.m. during All Saints (November 1) and Christmas school holidays.
Closing at 6 p.m. on December 24 and 31. Closed on December 25.
Admission: Full price is 11 euros. Free for children under 13
Metro: Line 1, 9, 13: Champs-Élysées-Clemenceau or Franklin Roosevelt
Bus: 28, 42, 52, 72, 73, 80, 83, 93
Audioguides: French, English, German: 5 euros
Publications: – Exhibition catalogue: 50 euros – Album: 9 euros
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