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Of Toys and Men

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Peugeot 404 cabriolet électrique avec chauffeur au téléphone, 1963
Peugeot 404 cabriolet électrique avec chauffeur au téléphone, 1963 © Musée de la Poupée et du Jouet Ancien de Wanbrechies-Lille

Esteemed French poet Charles Baudelaire once said "toys are the first taste of art". In the same vein, Of Toys and Men presents a history of toys in the Western world and spotlights their importance in childrens' growth and devlopment, right from birth...

Who? Esteemed French poet Charles Baudelaire once said "toys are the first taste of art". In the same vein, Of Toys and Men presents a history of toys in the Western world and spotlights their importance in childrens' growth and devlopment, right from birth.

What? The exhibition brings together a unique collection of European toys from antique dolls, royal dolls, Barbie dolls, trains, planes, boats, bears, clockwork toys, war-like video games, lead soldiers and plastic figurines, flying saucers, Noah’s arks and Father Christmas in an aeroplane. They range from mass-produced products to those crafted by artists such as Alexander Calder, Felix Garcia Torres and Benjamin Rabier.

"Toys give fascinating insights into their users and the cultural climate – some of them beautiful in their simplicity, others are similar to popular products still around today"

Why? As well as religion, family, food, rest and relaxation, toys are one of the central themes of Christmas. Back in June, leading toy shops release lists of their predicted top 10 toys, with this year's including Transformers 3, celebrity dolls and child-friendly technology. Running for the next few weeks, the Paris exhbition showcases a vast collection of toys drawn from various points in history. Each give fascinating insights into their users and the cultural climate – some of them beautiful in their simplicity, while others are similar to popular products still around today. Highlights include a collection of wooden farm animals from the start of the century, their marks an indication of the generations of children that have enjoyed them; a mechanical robot chicken from the 50s; Nicolas and Pimprenelle dolls from the popular French puppet show Bonne Nuit les Petits; and ivory, silver, and bone baby rattles.

Of Toys and Men runs at Grand Palais, Galeries nationales until January 23 2012, and at the Helsinki Art Museum February 21 until May 20 2012.

Text by Laura Bradley

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