Illustrating the First World War. The year 1915 in Le Petit Journal’s illustrated supplement

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“New Year’s Day in the trenches. Little gifts maintain the friendship between officers and soldiers.” Le Petit Journal, Supplément illustré, Sunday 9 January 1915. Source: Gallica/BnF

In January 1915 Colette talked about her visit to the front over Christmas in her column for Le Matin. She described her horror at seeing the soldiers receiving all sorts of presents and luxuries while the children and villagers of the region were left without homes, food and clothes.[1]

Le Petit Journal took a different approach to the soldiers and their holiday gifts. The January cover of their illustrated supplement from 1915 (see above) shows officers sharing gifts with ordinary soldiers on New Year’s Day: friendship among the ranks. It is a scene that is obviously meant to boost moral and offer some holiday spirit and relief. I am not an expert on the First World War – the topic falls outside of the period I usually look at and certainly my expertise – but Colette’s articles led me to some other representations of war in the press around the same period. I decided to take a look at Le Petit Journal‘s illustrated supplement, a newspaper whose covers -like those of Le Petit Parisien – are always a visual treat. Even when reporting on an event that was horrible enough as it was – the war – Le Petit Journal managed to turn it into what they did best: sentimental and brutal melodrama.

 The intimate prose of Colette’s newspaper columns tended to focus very much on the devastating impact of war on ordinary people.[2] By comparison Le Petit Journal’s illustrations are less than subtle and revel in sentimentality, glory, heroism, patriotic flag waving, dramatic scenes of (modern) warfare, royalty and lots of evil Germans. For those familiar with Le Petit Journal’s sensationalist depictions of crime , the lack of subtlety in the paper’s representations of war in the year 1915 should hardly come as a surprise. I’ve made a selection of the ones that struck me the most. Let’s take a look. Covers with evil Germans. EvilGermans

Flag waving everywhere. Even wounded soldiers keep holding on to the flag.

Flag waving

Modern air warfare makes its debut in the war and in the illustrated press.

Modern air warfare

Heroic battle scenes, both on land and at sea. Including singing the Marseillaise while attacking.

Heroicbattle

And if that isn’t heroic enough, there is always this soldier who keeps on playing the trumpet even though one of his arms has just been blown off. 

Playing the trumpet with one arm

Heart-breaking scenes at home, patriotism, remembrance, courageous dogs and horses. 

Sentiment

Brave royals doing their bit for the war effort. And for the press.

Royalty1

And just look at how bad things are in Germany. They even have to resort to fake news. BadinGermany I always wonder to what extent contemporary readers believed these dramatised images. How did these covers – if they did at all – influence public opinion? Was the average reader able to look at these a bit critically? Did they bring some comfort? Did people even care when there were so many other things to worry about? The propaganda war was fought on both sides. Covers like these in the popular press were – and had to be – all about rallying support,  a government-backed press machine to keep French citizens supportive of a war that was turning into a disaster. If you wanted to know a little bit about what was going on in everyday life or behind the scenes, it was probably better to read Colette’s articles as well.    Notes

[1‘L’automobile emporte, avec nous, des paniers de cadeaux de Noël. Pour les soldats? Non. Les soldats ont tout ce qu’il faut et davantage.’ (Le Matin, ‘Le journal de Colette’, 6 January 1915). See also my previous post on Colette.

[2] Which I discuss in my article in French Cultural Studies. You can find it here as well as draft version here.

Fifty Shades of Queen Victoria. The year 1900 in La Caricature

Yes, we can-can

Yes, we can-can

I wanted to treat you first to this image of Queen Victoria dancing the can-can with three other heads of state, including French president Loubet, and performing a very impressive split. Meanwhile a freakishly tall and very creepy Kaiser Wilhelm peeps over a fence. You’re welcome.

A while ago I looked at how newspaper Le Petit Parisien visualised the year 1900 through the covers of their illustrated supplement. I enjoyed that so much that I have decided to make this a somewhat regular feature. So here is the second post in the series The year 1900 in…This time I have picked the satirical weekly La Caricature (1880-1904). You can find all the issues here on Gallica.

La Caricature had an illustrious predecessor, the first La Caricature (1830-1843), known for its famous political cartoons by Daumier. The second La Caricature was run by Alfred Robida who by the way was also a great science-fiction writer. The weekly periodical had a lot of success in the 1880’s and attracted talented artists. By 1900 weekly however it had switched from colour to black and white, Alfred Robida had left, and with him many of the talent. Nevertheless the now cheaper weekly was still a familiar sight in the kiosks of Paris. And in 1900 readers of La Caricature were treated to fifty shades of Queen Victoria who was a regular guest star on the cover. Victoria JAn Febr Most of La Caricature’s covers deal with the international conflicts headlining in 1900 – the Second Boer War, the Boxer Rebellion. Victoria of course appears on these covers as a symbol of the inescapable dominance of the British Empire. While the caricatures of other heads of state still appear more or less humanly shaped, Queen Victoria looks more like John Tenniel’s Queen of Hearts from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Probably not a coincidence. In any case, Victoria had become such an iconic figure that she was instantly recognisable to everyone. And sold papers no doubt.

The illustrators of La Caricature clearly enjoyed making her look as comical as possible and placing her in what they saw as humiliating situations. All in an effort to debunk her and the power she symbolised.

28 avril commonVictoria

17 November

Queen Victoria in a very dysfunctional relationship with President Paul Kruger, also starring Wilhelmina of the Netherlands.

Were there covers without Victoria on it? Yes, of course. Other covers with British figures and symbols for example.

Other British stuff

Chamberlain as a drunk dandy, John Bull as a bully, and the Prince of Wales soon to be King Edward VII visiting one of his many mistresses in Paris. Probably also drunk.

Imperialist football

Imperialist football.

Any covers without anything British then? Well…

Scary stuff in China

Scary things happening in China. But also involving Britain and other imperialist nations.

Some other bad jokes

Some stuff happening in France and some very bad jokes.

But mainly all Britain's fault

But mainly everything was Victoria and Britain’s fault. Even Santa Claus thought so.

La Caricature clearly had some deep unresolved issues with Victoria and Britain. And probably with the fact that France felt it was playing second fiddle in international politics.

Let’s end on a serious note though. These covers do show the volatile geopolitical situation of the time and the imperialist pissing contests – or football matches – that continued to dominate international politics. Power games that would, ultimately, lead to more conflict and war. 

The fact that Wilhelm is made to watch while Victoria and her band of merry men dance the can-can together also takes on an ominous meaning when you know what’s to come. Lesson: invite everyone to your can-can party or there will be trouble.

The many faces of a spy. The death of Mata Hari in French newspapers.


Mata Hari 16 oktober 1917

Mata Hari detail

‘She abused our country’s hospitality for years only to betray us’, Le Petit Parisien, 16 October 1917. Source: BnF/Gallica.

On Monday the 15th of October 1917 at six in the morning Margaretha-Geertruida Zelle-Macleod, better known as Mata Hari, faced a firing squad in Vincennes. She was 41 years old. Earlier that year she had been sentenced to death for espionage by French military court. Newspaper Le Petit Parisien, which loved a bit of melodrama, describes how the first shots just wounded her after which a sergeant fired the lethal shot from close range. When her body dropped to the ground ‘her eyes’, according to Le Petit Parisien, ‘seemed to look up to the sky as if asking for forgiveness.’ OK then.

Much has been said and written about the Dutch-Frisian woman who reinvented herself in Paris as a mysterious, Asian dancer/courtesan, who captivated audiences at the Olympia and the Folies-Bergères. Today the consensus is that she was never really the master spy – or double agent – the authorities claimed she was. However, she was a good scapegoat. The execution of an alleged traitor, a foreigner no less, a performance artist with questionable morals, offered a small, symbolic victory at a time when France was facing tremendous losses in the war. This was quite clear in the way her death was reported in most national newspapers on the 16th of October. The papers managed to get her real name more or less right, but she is described as either German or simply ‘foreign’.

Mata Hari fusillée Le Matin 16-10-1917

Le Matin detail Fake Hindu dancer, traitor and ‘choreographic artist of foreign origin who lived in several European capitals’, Le Matin, 16 October 1917. Source: BnF/Gallica.

Le Petit Journal 16 10 1917

Le Petit Journal 16-10-1917 ‘The dancer of German origin’ according to Le Petit Journal, 16 October 1917. The woman in the photo does not really look like her, but who cares, the spy is dead. Source: BnF/Gallica

Le Journal 16-10-1917

Le Journal, 16 October 1917: ‘Choreographic artist of foreign origin who lived in several European capitals’. The newspaper uses a detail of a photo of Mata Hari that had already appeared in fashion magazine Les Modes in February 1908 (see below). Source: BnF/Gallica

Mata Hari Les Modes February 1908

The press did not seem too interested in the actual person behind the myth. No journalist bothered to investigate her background or the facts of her case. Instead the papers regurgitated official press releases and old pictures, showing the many faces – literally – of the glamorous, but treacherous Mata Hari.

Newspaper La Croix cared even less and put the news of Mata Hari’s execution on page 4, next to advertising and the weather.

La Croix p4 16 10 1917

‘Choreographic artist of foreign origin who lived in…’ Wait, we’ve seen this sentence before. La Croix, 16 October 1917. Source: BnF/Gallica

On prostitution: L’ Assiette au Beurre and Kees van Dongen

Following my previous post on illustrated newspaper supplements, I was looking at some other examples of illustrated press around 1900.

One of the more fascinating publications, artistically and politically, was L’ Assiette au Beurre. This weekly satirical magazine had themed issues in which graphic artists gave their vision of politics and society. During its existence the periodical commissioned many well-known artists who were drawn to its anarchist, anti-authoritarian and socialist politics. Most of the artwork is striking, though not always very subtle and at times quite cynical. Yet the magazine tackled many socio-political issues and taboo subjects.

Dutch born artist Kees van Dongen – he later became a French national – was invited to illustrate a special issue of 26 October 1901 on prostitution. See the whole issue here on Gallica.

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Contempt, Poverty, Illness, Death

Kees van Dongen was familiar with the subject. The son of a factory worker, he left home at 18 and rented a room above a brothel in Rotterdam. In Paris he lived in Montmartre where some of the prostitutes shared his bed, posed for him or paid for the young Dutchman’s meals because they thought he was so handsome. At least according to Van Dongen. Though he would become one of Paris’ richest portrait painters and a prominent society figure after the First World War, Kees van Dongen spent his formative years working night shifts in Les Halles and boxing for money on the Place Pigalle while pursuing his artistic career. At the time, doing illustration work was a great way to make money and to build a reputation. Before moving to Paris Kees van Dongen had already worked as a reporter-illustrator for the Rotterdamsche Nieuwsblad.

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The four seasons of a life in prostitution.

Van Dongen would also illustrate Het rosse leven en sterven van de Zandstraat, a best-selling book by Dutch journalist M.J. (Marie Joseph) Brusse on the rosse buurt, the red light district, of Rotterdam. Brusse attempted to show the realities of life in prostitution without the usual moralising. The book’s second edition (1917) –for those who read Dutch – is freely available here and well worth a read for its vivid, often enthusiastic portrayal of a life in the margins that Brusse opposes to the stuffy hypocrisy of the bourgeoisie. Brusse’s book as well as L’ Assiette au Beurre reflect the radical politics and social reform movements of the early 20th century, drawing attention to the underlying causes of prostitution such as poverty. As Brusse writes in his introduction: ‘you can’t blame women for turning to a profession where they are paid a lot more than a maid or a factory worker.’

VanDongenZandstraatBrusse

Illustrations by Kees van Dongen for M.J. Brusse, Het rosse leven en sterven van de Zandstraat, 1917 (2nd edition)

Of course, these are all visions of prostitution through the eyes of others. The women themselves don’t really get a voice. Van Dongen’s illustrations for L’ Assiette au Beurre are a bit sentimental and his drawing of a naked, stretched out, dead cocotte is stereotypical if not exploitative -the magazine had to sell copy after all. Yet ultimately Van Dongen’s illustrations do side with the prostitutes: he shows the crippling shame of an illegitimate child, the threat of illness, death, and the vicious circle of poverty. L’ Assiette au Beurre was clear in its critique of a society that gave women very few choices and then condemned them for it.

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Note: Details on Kees van Dongen’s life are taken from Rudolf Engers, Het kleurrijke leven van Kees van Dongen, Schiedam, Scriptum, 2002.

Women in bed with snakes and other news. The year 1900 in Le Petit Parisien’s illustrated supplement.

 

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Snakes: ‘Why is no one actually looking at us?’

‘A difficult arrest’ is the understated subtitle of this slightly farcical cover of Le Petit Parisien‘s literary illustrated supplement from 25 February 1900. Despite the seven snakes crawling out of her bed, the woman seems more preoccupied with adjusting her hair and striking a pose. She also doesn’t really seem to notice the people standing in her bedroom door. Was the illustrator just not very good at drawing people’s expressions? What is going on here?

The weekly, Sunday illustrated supplements of Le Petit Parisien – and other popular newspapers – were known for their sensational, visual representations of currents events and fait divers. These were the days before photography became widely used in newspapers so illustrators could let their imaginations run wild. And they did. The covers had to be eye-catching and action packed to draw the attention of potential buyers. The articles inside were often a lot less sensational and more balanced, but the cover drawings were basically the 1900 version of click-bait. Obviously it worked, because they managed to catch my attention 114 years later. Check out the covers from 1900 and other years here on Gallica.

Even though there is some gruesome violence pictured in many of them, there is a very odd, emotionless distance in these drawings as well as in the expressions of the people pictured. Even when an individual is in the midst of being murdered. Is this due to poor artistic skills or was this done to avoid too much realism? Dehumanised violence for sensitive viewers? In any case, some truly horrible events end up looking very staged and artificial, if not unintentionally comical. At least I hope it was unintentional.

murder of a guardian of the peace

‘I am not going to stop arresting this man just because there is a knife stuck in my head’

 

murders, accidents, disasters

More murders, accidents and disasters

In between all these horrors, when there were no freak events to report, other things happened as well in 1900: a horse getting ready for some parade, the fire brigade getting an electric car, another horse at a race with a lot of flag waving, the president at a very important ceremony, 6 officers with bicycles protecting 3 French citizens, a laboratory being opened. The underlying message of these rather boring events is clear. Look how wonderful the French Republic is: just waving some flags, having fun parades, making scientific discoveries, with non-threatening officers taking care of citizens.

Other things that also happened

Things that also happened and made the government look good.

And then there were actual historical events happening in far away places: the Boer war, a bit of French colonial expansion and fighting in Africa, Europeans being attacked by angry Chinese rebels, friendly foreign imperial rulers who were supportive of France.

Meanwhile far away...

Meanwhile far away…important historical events were taking place. The emphasis is of course on the bravery of France and its foreign allies.

Back to the most important event of the year though: the female snake charmer. I was of course curious to find out who she was. Medusa reincarnated? Just a woman with an unfortunate choice of pets? Well, neither really. Her name was, depending on the newspaper, either Zalemma Keardy or Neardy. But who cares about futile facts when there is a juicy story to be told. Apparently this 24 year old Swedish woman claimed to be a snake charmer, but was in reality a swindler with an international arrest warrant. The police visited her at her Paris hotel room where they found her asleep in between her snakes. She threatened the officers, but of course the courageous French detective was not afraid of her snakes. A brave man. According to newspaper articles Zalemma ended up in the Saint-Lazare prison. I have no idea what happened to the poor snakes or what happened to her, but the story was picked up by newspapers everywhere. Below you can see how the same story was represented in the illustrated Sunday edition of regional newspaper L’Express de Lyon (Source: BM de Lyon). Le Petit Dauphinois used the same cover illustration as you can see here.

So what is the overall sentiment in 1900 according to these covers? Mostly a bit of scare-mongering mixed with some human interest, foreign news and a dose of chauvinism. Not just in Le Petit Parisien, but also in the regional papers. Dangers are obviously everywhere: criminals, scary foreigners, nature. Luckily brave police officers, soldiers and other heroes are busy trying to protect French citizens from harm everywhere in the world. And it’s probably best to buy illustrated supplements to read all about it.

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‘Laugh all you want, scary foreign woman, but your snakes are no match for the French Tricolour I have in my hand!’

 

 

 

 

Duelling Women: Marie-Rose Astié de Valsayre

An intriguing news item on page 3 of Le Petit Parisien in 1886:

A duel between women has just taken place in Belgium, as evidenced by the following message we received: ‘Mme Astié de Valsayre, know for having published several books, has just been to Waterloo (Belgium) for a fencing duel with an American, Miss Shelby. During a debate on the superiority of French female doctors over American female doctors she had thrown her glove in the face of Miss Shelby. France was victorious. During the second engagement the American was lightly wounded on the arm. Witnesses have stated that everything happened according to the rules.’ (Le Petit Parisien, 27 March, 1886, source: Gallica BnF)

Duels were not uncommon in the nineteenth century and often highly publicised. It was the gentleman way of dealing with a dispute or an insult, rooted in a century-old code of honour and masculinity: a tradition from which women were excluded.

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Le Petit Parisien, Supplément littéraire illustré, 19/01/1893, source: Gallica/BnF

Marie-Rose Astié de Valsayre had studied medicine and was a socialist, feminist, public speaker, and journalist. She sometimes published under the pseudonym Jehan des Etrivières, including the book Les Amazones du siècle (1882). She had also famously volunteered to be a guinea pig for Louis Pasteur so he could inoculate her. And she was a keen cyclist, which at the time was a feminist statement in itself as we have seen before.

In 1887 Astié de Valsayre asked parliament to grant women the right to wear trousers. This had been prohibited in Paris by Revolutionary law since 17 November 1799 unless the woman was ‘holding a bicycle, a horse, or had official police authorisation.’ Fun fact: this law was only officially abolished on 31 January 2013.

But Astié de Valsayre was particularly notorious in the media for being an accomplished fencer and duellist. Engaging in a duel as a woman was a provocative act and for many in the intellectual elite of Paris a step too far it seems. Fellow feminist and prominent journalist Séverine preferred to send her husband to duel for her instead. Astié de Valsayre then accused Séverine of not being able to stand up for herself. Séverine in turn distanced herself from feminists like Astié de Valsayre whose antics and demands for the right to wear trousers she deemed ridiculous and counter-productive.

In 1884 La Presse wrote that Astié de Valsayre was involved in a legal battle after someone had slandered her in the press. This had led to some sort of row en public and everyone being taken to a police station. In the article she is menacingly described as ‘armed with a whip and agitated’. Feminist troublemakers generally did not receive a warm welcome in the press. Even the Dictionnaire de pseudonyms (1887) described her as ‘too famous and eccentric’ (p. 144).

Catholic newspaper La Croix also reported her duel with Miss Shelby on its front page. It’s a small article, but it still manages to sneer at feminists, female doctors and Darwin’s theory of evolution:

Women have now completely barged through the doors of the Faculty of Medicine, and we have a legion of lady doctors who challenge the preconceptions of the restrained and modest sex. These female doctors are now getting women involved in the duel. A bluestocking, Mme Astié de Valsayre has…

Here the report follows that of Le Petit Parisien before it ends with a final editorial comment:

Very soon we will have no doubt another duel between two lady doctors to find out whether man or woman is descended from apes. (La Croix , 27 March,1886, source: Gallica/BnF)

The duel was not just reported in the French Press. The New York Times mentioned it as well, describing Astié de Valsayre as ‘prepared to go anywhere and do anything’ (New York Times, 20 April, 1886). The British tabloid Illustrated Police News  also provided a nice illustration of the event:

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Illustrated Police News, 10/04/1886, source: here

I suspect the illustrator had no idea what the women actually looked like and just wanted to show voluptuous, half undressed women trying to kill each other. It is a a bit of a contrast with Le Petit Parisien’s portrait of a scholarly, serious-looking Astié de Valsayre.

Judging from a quick scan of newspapers, the press seemed to focus mainly on the more outrageous aspects of her personality. However Le Petit Parisien did report on her fight for women’s rights in their illustrated supplement in 1893, albeit tucked away on the last page. Astié de Valsayre and others had formed a committee to get women elected in parliament. This proved a difficult campaign with opposition from politicians, but also from other prominent women like Séverine, but Le Petit Parisien writes:

Despite that, Mme Astié de Valsayre and her friends continue their campaign with real courage and a very honourable energy. (Le Petit Parisien, 29 January, 1893, source : Gallica/BnF)

I think Astié de Valsayre would have approved of those qualifications.

Advertising on trains, Franco-British rivalry and creepy children

The illustrated supplement of L’Écho de Paris from 24 May 1890 (read it here) has an advert on page 4 that tries to sell the idea of advertising on trains. Train companies knew that people might get annoyed by them or, even worse, ignore them. So they had to pretend these posters were not just there to sell you something and make money. They were making the world a better place.
The three images all illustrate the supposed benefits of publicity posters, but mainly teach us three valuable historical lessons: Franco-British rivalry was exploited as a marketing tool, advertisers have always been good at insulting people’s intelligence, and nineteenth-century children looked disturbing.

L’Écho de Paris, 24 May 1890, illustrated supplement. Source: BNF/gallica

‘Excuse me, Madame’, asks the elderly person in the first image (look here for better quality), ‘does one have to pay a supplement to travel in coaches with publicity posters?’ The question is left unanswered and it seems everybody in the picture is still waiting for an answer. In the second drawing a man in a top hat sporting a monocle wonders whether his son/brother/boyfriend won’t be bored to death during his day-long journey. ‘Oh, not at all!,’ the other man replies, ‘since the Compagnie de Lyon has had this great idea of putting op posters in their coaches, reading them breaks the monotony of my trip, not to mention the useful information they provide.’ The third illustration shows a mother pointing out a poster to a creepy adult-looking child. ‘Thanks to publicity on the train, our children will learn how to read while travelling, making us more practical than our British neighbours.’
Did they really think people had never heard of books or schools? Knowing perhaps that these cartoons were a bit weak, the company resorted to the age-old tactic of invoking a shared enemy to get people on board. Colonial rivalry between France and Britain had reached new heights at the end of the nineteenth century so beating the British at anything was a bonus; even if it was just at being practical. Judging from the illustration the posters on this train would teach children the phrases ‘best chocolate’ and ‘wisdom teeth’. What country wouldn’t be jealous of that level of practicality?