Wine and the colonies

Wine and the colonies

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Title: Main exports of plant origin (retail).

Author : GEO Michel (-)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0

Technique and other indications: Oil painting.

Storage place: Quai Branly Museum - Jacques Chirac website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - All rights reserved website

Picture reference: 87-000132 / 75.2005.0.757

Main exports of plant origin (retail).

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - All rights reserved

Publication date: October 2009

Historical context

Viticulture in the colonies of North Africa at the end of the 19th centurye century to 1930s

Maghreb farms know their golden age at the end of the 19th centurye century to the 1930s. The works of sanitation and irrigation of the land as well as the improvement of transport, which guaranteed a rapid delivery of fresh fruits and vegetables, led to a sharp increase in exports to France.

This favorable context primarily benefits viticulture. If Morocco, and even more Tunisia, devote fairly large areas to vines, it is in Algeria that they will grow the most: 15,000 hectares in 1878, 110,000 in 1890, 167,000 in 1903 and 396 000 in 1930. With nearly 20 million hectoliters produced in 1930, or 45% of the value of its exports, Algeria then became the world's fourth largest wine producer.

Image Analysis

The vine, an example of the excellence of colonial products

The proposed image is a detail of the canvas Main exports of plant origin, work by Michel Géo, born in 1885. For the 1931 exhibition, the artist produced seven paintings on the theme of the colonial economy and representing foodstuffs exported by the French territories of Africa and Asia.

In this part of the canvas are three figures. A man of the Maghrebian type, dressed in a traditional white and beige costume, stands and takes care of a vineyard. In the center of the diagonal, a woman also dressed natively and veiled. Sitting, she presents the viewer with a cup full of henna staring straight in the eyes. Finally, a child shows us his bare, tanned back. Around them appear the various colonial products, the names of which are written in yellow letters. Grapes and wines are prominently, almost in evidence, in the foreground. Skillfully using oil paint, the artist plays with the diversity of colors and illuminates the variety, diversity, luxuriance and abundance of colonial products.


The benefits of colonization illustrated by viticulture

The work seeks to convince metropolitan French of the benefits of colonization, here in agriculture, and to show them all that the colonies bring to France. The profusion of local products proves the great fertility of these distant lands, if they are well exploited. Beyond the "exotic" intention, the fact that it is the natives who present their production perhaps means that, well trained and well supervised, they are capable, for their prosperity and that of the metropolis, of everything. cultivate.

It is then the very principle of colonization that would aim to be legitimized, the abundance of the harvest showing that the civilizing mission exercised by France and by the settlers there benefits everyone. The "exotic" lands have been tamed to give the best of themselves. The natives too, who seem above all docile, peaceful, confident in their work and their future (especially men). If the proud gaze of the woman expresses some kind of disobedience, it would be the result of her success in the agricultural and commercial process induced by colonization rather than contesting it.

Vines and wine (like wheat or vegetables for that matter) are certainly not exotic products. But, the real fruits of real work, they deserve to be included in the honor roll for the agricultural wealth that the colonies bring to France, the land of wine par excellence. Perhaps it was a question here of reassuring consumers and "responding" to metropolitan winegrowers unhappy with the competition from Algerian wines - the sector suffered a strike in 1907 and many crises thereafter.

  • Algeria
  • colonial history
  • wine
  • colonies
  • Pastor (Louis)


Pierre GUILLAUME, The colonial world, Armand Colin collection U, Paris, 1999.Gilbert GARRIER, Social and cultural history of wine, Bordas Cultures, Paris, 1995.Catherine HODEIR and Michel PIERRE, The Colonial Exhibition, Paris 1931, Paris-Bruxelles, Complex Editions, 1991.

To cite this article

Alban SUMPF, "Wine and the colonies"

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