This catalogue was published on the occasion of the exhibition Of Toys and Men, Galeries nationales, Grand Palais from 14th Sept. 2011 to 23 January 2012.
Toys are the first taste of art. Charles Baudelaire
A thousand toys from Antiquity to the present day, all in one exhibition! Nothing of such scope has ever been attempted before: antique dolls, royal dolls, Barbie dolls, trains, planes, boats, bears of all sorts, astonishingly lifelike clockwork toys, warlike videogames, lead soldiers and plastic figurines, flying saucers, Noah's arks and even Father Christmas in an aeroplane.
Midway between mimicry and imagination
Of Toys and Men presents a history of toys in the Western world and spotlights their importance in children's education right from birth. It looks at the ambiguous relationship that children foster with their miniature version of the grown-up world. How do they come to grips with this child-sized reality, inevitably designed by adults? How have archetypal dolls, cars or toy soldiers changed over the years? What has stayed constant and what has evolved? Have children always dreamed of being firemen or schoolmarms? All these questions focus on toys - rather than games, which imply rules - and the exhibition tries to answer them in a scientific, yet sensitive way. The exhibition has been organised jointly with the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, which has one of the biggest toy collections in Europe. Interesting exhibits have come from other prestigious French or international cultural institutions, such as the Victoria and Albert Museum, in London, the Toy Museum, in Nuremberg or the Strong National Museum of Play, in Rochester, USA, as well as from many private collections throughout Europe. Whether they are mass-produced or crafted by famous artists such as Alexander Calder, Felix Garcia Torres or Benjamin Rabier, whether they are exceptional pieces or much-loved favourites, these toys teach us directly or indirectly about the world, its changes and history. The exhibits are supported by a wide range of paintings, posters, sculptures, films, videogames and clips.
As they wander from room to room, exploring the ritual of giving and the need to put away childish things on the eve of adulthood, visitors will discover or recognise toys enjoyed by several generations of children. The exhibition explores several themes, including:
Teddy bears, hobby horses and rocking horses lead the parade of children's animals. Other long-time favourites are farm and circus animals and the solemn procession of birds and beasts into Noah's Ark.
Automatons or clockwork toys - like Fernand Martin's frenzied violinist or the caretaker forever wielding her broom - fascinate us with their mechanisms and disconcertingly lifelike air. Lithographed metal robots from Japan and Robosapiens or Roboraptor are later illustrations of a naïve, or enthusiastic, faith in technological progress.
Predetermined roles, reproducing ancestral stereotypes, have been handed down from Antiquity. Toys for girls and toys for boys are the throbbing heart of the exhibition. On the one hand, the intimate world of home and dolls; on the other, the boundless world of cars, trains, boats, planes and even spaceships. And, of course, war: children's war toys are closely connected to successive world wars. These days, imaginary battles inspired by heroic fantasy and science fiction have taken over from the lead soldiers of yesteryear and videogames are their preferred medium.
The media age:
This section, near the end of the exhibition, aims to show how the media have influenced toys in the twentieth century. Or how television shows such as Bonne Nuit les Petits popularised dolls like Nicolas and Pimprenelle and their teddy bears or how Star Wars spawned countless derivatives which thrilled children and collectors alike - and made the manufacturers a mint.