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.

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