07 September 2018
Earlier this year we marked the 400th anniversary of the Second Defenstration of Prague. As well as its implications for the government of Bohemia and for Czech culture, the Defenestration also came to be seen as the start of a conflict which raged through Europe for the next three decades.
The Thirty Years War is reckoned to be one of the most destructive conflicts of the pre-industrial era, with estimates of up to three million fatalities. Issues of religious allegiance were key to its origins, with the Protestant states of the Holy Roman Empire rebelling against attempts by their Habsburg overlords to re-establish Catholic unity. But power politics could trump religious allegiance: for example, Catholic France at first covertly supported Protestant forces and later openly came out against their Habsburg co-religionists, more concerned about the growing power of the Empire than the advance of Protestantism.
Historians sometimes divide the war into phases based on the main antagonists involved. A collection of broadsides in the British Library contains material mainly from what is known as the ‘Swedish Period’ in the early 1630s, when the Swedish King Gustav II Adolf blazed a trail through Germany in support of the Protestant cause (but helped by French subsidies, and also hoping to gain valuable footholds on the southern Baltic shore for his own country). The broadsides all take the Protestant side, and Gustav, sometimes shown alongside his Protestant ally Elector Johann Georg of Saxony, is very much the hero.
One broadside even shows the two leaders receiving the blessing of Luther himself.
The success and extent of Gustav’s campaigns can be seen in broadsides depicting the number of towns he successfully captured between 1630 and 1631, from Stralsund on the Baltic to Stein am Rhein, now in Switzerland.
A cruder version of this theme shows Gustav forcing the Pope to vomit up the towns he has ‘devoured’.
Other broadsides describe the Protestants’ capture of individual cities. A particularly ecstatic writer from Augsburg speaks of the day ‘when his Royal Majesty freed the worthy city of Augsburg … from the Pope’s tyrannical violence,’ (1750.b.29.(22.)) and a piece from Munich shows the city fathers doing homage to Gustav and handing him the keys of the city.
Another common theme is the Battle of Breitenfeld (usually called here the Battle of Leipzig) in September 1631, the first major victory of Gustav’s forces over the Imperial army commanded by Jean Terclaes, Count of Tilly.
Several of the broadsides describe this as ‘Leipzig Sweetmeats’ or a ‘Leipzig Banquet’ served to Tilly by his victorious opponents. One such satire hints at the suffering that the conflict was bringing to Germany’s poorest: two peasants explain that they cannot bring wine to the feast as requested, because ‘everything is lost, not a single bushel of corn is left‘. Instead they bring a selection of farm implements for Tilly to use as cutlery at his ‘banquet‘.
A handful of broadsides use the form of a rebus such as this satire on Tilly.
These can be difficult to decipher and interpret, as can the many allegorical images in the collection. Even those with extensive explanations tend to defy understanding by any but specialists in the period, although one of the more straightforward shows Gustav shooting a hawk, representing Tilly, as it attacks the peaceful dove of the true church.
Tilly was a particular hate figure among Protestants, not least because of his siege and brutal sack of the city of Magdeburg, the subject of several broadsides in the collection. One such is a plan of the city showing the damage caused by Tilly's troops.
In another broadside, one of Tilly’s soldiers laments the suffering the Imperial army has caused – murder, theft, looting, rape. This again hints at the damage caused to ordinary people by the conflict, but the main propaganda point is the greater virtue of the Protestant cause rather than the suffering of the war’s victims. The soldier resolves to leave Tilly’s army and become a ‘Christian soldier’ fighting with Gustav and Johann Georg; in reality, of course, he would have no doubt continued to commit similar crimes in their name.
In April 1632 Tilly died of wounds sustained at the Battle of Rain, another Swedish victory. Gustav himself was killed in November of the same year at the Battle of Lützen.
Despite the loss of such a brilliant and charismatic leader, the Swedes won the day at Lützen and remained in the war until it ended in 1648, soon fighting openly alongside the Catholic French. Johann Georg, however, sued for peace with the Emperor in 1635. The Protestant alliance between the two, celebrated in so many of these broadsides was a short lived one.
Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections
13 August 2018
From under one of the British Library’s unassuming shelfmarks ‘Tab.11748.a’, a fascinating portal into the First World War emerges. It references a collection of some 350 French posters dating from 1914 to 1918, which were in the Library’s possession by 1920. While a few have been displayed in exhibitions or included in the British Library’s World War One website and Europeana 1914-1918, the majority have waited, neatly stored in their sturdy red wooden boxes, for nearly a century. As part of the Library’s PhD research placement programme , I began delving into this wonderfully rich collection, with the aim of bringing to light these pages of history for researchers, historians and the wider public.
The Great War is considered the first ‘total war’ in that not only armies but whole nations were mobilised to support the war effort. The streets of towns and cities quite literally bore its signs. The posters in this collection are the tangible artefacts of the urban environment of those who lived through the war; they informed, persuaded, warned, entertained, prescribed and prohibited. The images and messages they convey are those which ordinary French people saw, read, leaned against, walked by, tore down and pasted over. As well as offering testimony to the dramatic upheavals for people across France, they also bear witness to the burgeoning visual vocabulary of poster advertising and mass publicity.
The call for mobilisation, posted at 4 p.m. on the rue Croix-des-Petits-Champs, Paris, 1 August 1914. (Image © Préfecture de Police, Service de l'Identité judiciaire/BHVP/Roger-Viollet)
Colonne Morris, December 1914, (Image © Charles Lansiaux/BHVP/Roger-Viollet)
Eric Fisher Wood, an American in Paris at the outbreak of the war, remarks in his journal entry of 23 August 1914, ‘Here in Paris, extraordinary as it may seem, we have had no real news of the progress of the war. The Official Communiqués carry to a fine point the art of saying nothing of any importance.’ Naturally, people would have been desperate for information and one can imagine Parisians gathered around posters to read the speeches, announcements and call-ups.
These bills would have been posted on walls, hoardings, monuments and on the iconic Morris columns. These ubiquitous pieces of urban architecture, named after the printer Gabriel Morris, began to sprout up across France’s cities from 1855 and still pepper its streets, palimpsests of publicity and print culture.
The effectiveness of posters relied not only on key developments in industrialised production and chromolithography but also on mass literacy; for text-based posters to work, everyone needs to be able to read them. By the early 20th century, widespread literacy had been assured in France. Guizot’s law of 1833 on primary education paved the way for Jules Ferry’s more comprehensive education act of 1882 which brought obligatory, free and secular primary education to children in France.
And what was being seen and read by French people across the country? This collection represents a cross section of the kinds of posters displayed during the war, varying from vibrant image-based posters to densely-printed transcripts of speeches and decrees. A wide range of themes are touched upon, from propaganda to appeals for donations, to local council announcements, each a unique prism through which to gain insight into the realities, norms and concerns of the time. Some highlight the startling difference between then and now, while others seem to reach across and reveal just how similar our realities are.
In contrast to Britain and the USA, France’s soldiers were not recruits but conscripts, so there are no equivalents of Kitchener’s or Uncle Sam’s famous pointing fingers in this collection. General mobilisation was announced in France in the first days of August 1914, solemnly calling up all men of fighting age:
Official government announcement for general mobilisation. 2 August 1914. République française. (All poster images are taken from the collection at Tab.11748.a. A complete listing with fuller shelfmark details is in preparation.)
However, even though service was obligatory, there were still attempts to boost morale and stir national pride. This poster uses patriotic, energetic imagery to encourage Frenchmen to sign up for training programmes to arrive fit and ready for the front.
Poster for pre-military training programmes for future troops, 1918. Ministère de la guerre.
One of the most interesting kinds of posters, albeit less visually scintillating, are the state-issued posters for public dissemination announcing decrees and regulations under military law. They are to do with requisitions of all kinds of property including cars, horses, mules and even carrier pigeons for military use, summons to public commemoration such as the transference of the remains of Rouget de l’Isle, author of ‘La Marseillaise’, to the Hôtel des Invalides, and a great number are related to the sale of alcohol, absinthe in particular.
Among the more artistically appealing are the posters advertising war bonds. These raised the means to fund the war and later to help rebuild the country through liberty bonds. Each bank issued its own posters, sometimes engaging well-known artists to urge individuals to lend what they could to the state, at low fixed-interest rates. Their imagery is direct, persuasive and unabashedly patriotic.
Posters appealing for funds and donations make up another substantial part of the collection, advertising galas, concerts and art exhibitions for various causes. They reveal the proliferation of charities and aid organisations from the outset of the war, all raising funds for different groups of people adversely affected by the war: orphans, wounded soldiers, POWs, families of soldiers killed in action, refugees and the poor.
Poster for ‘La Croix-Verte’, a charity for wounded and returning soldiers, Paris, c. 1915.
There is of course a number of anti-German propaganda posters, describing the cruelty and barbarism of the ‘Huns’, their violation of international treaties and their violence against civilian populations, often comparing them with the moral irreproachability of the allies.
There are also posters which have a more tangential connection to the war, such as this remarkable advert by Henri Montassier for a serial by Régis Gignoux and Roland Dorgelès. His anthropomorphised tank takes less inspiration from contemporary tanks than those in H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. Another is the striking poster for ‘L’Exportateur français’, with its imposing silhouette and vibrant orange sky, an early example of the stylised art deco posters of the 20s and 30s.
In Paris and cities throughout France, the sites that displayed these posters continue their functions, as do the Morris Columns, now adapted for cities’ evolving needs. They were taken over in 1986 by advertising giants JCDecaux, and have gradually been repurposed with dual functions; they are toilets, phone boxes, and some are even equipped with pollution-absorbing devices; ultra-modern but concretely connected to the past. Now, a century after the end of the war, the posters they once displayed reanimate the visual landscape and invite us to reimagine France’s urban theatres and the lives that took place within them.
Phoebe Weston-Evans, PhD placement student, BL European and American Collections – University of Melbourne
James Aulich, War Posters: Weapons of Mass Communication (London, 2007). LC.31.b.9601
John Barnicoat, A Concise History of Posters (London, 1972). X.429/5360
Rosalind Ormiston, First World War Posters (London, 2013). YKL.2015.a.2857
Eric Fisher Wood, The Note-Book of an Attaché. Seven Months in the War Zone (New York, 1940). 9082.ff.28
Christine Vial Kayser and Géraldine Chopin, Allons enfants! Publicité et propagande 1914-1918 (Louveciennes, 2014). YF.2017.a.11967
Charles Lansiaux, Paris 14-18: la guerre au quotidien. Photographies de Charles Lanciaux (Paris, 2013). LF.31.a.5681
09 July 2018
The British Library holds an important collection of French propaganda posters from the First World War. This striking material, often of high artistic quality, constitutes a fascinating means to reflect on the values and motivations as well as the challenges faced by French society at the time. Many posters dating from the end of the war call for the financial support of French civilians by subscribing to ‘Liberation Loans’, first to finance victory and, after the war, to fund ongoing reconstruction. These were government bonds issued through banks, given by individuals to the state at a fixed, low interest rate and redeemable after a given period. Subscribing to them was presented as an integral part of the war effort. The posters advertising them highlight a situation of economic strain (high government debt, inflation and currency devaluation), and its social and political repercussions, stressing the financial responsibility of civilians to support soldiers on the frontline.
The poster ‘Souscrivez à l’emprunt de la Libération’, illustrated by the artist and caricaturist Édouard-Alexandre Bernard, was issued in 1918 by the Comité national de prévoyance et d’économie, led by members of the government, businessmen and industrialists, academics and Church representatives, whose names are listed on the left-hand side: their authority and expertise support the poster’s message. The promotion of Liberation Loans links the relative strengths of the French and German currencies to the two countries’ military situations. On one side, the one franc coin seems to climb effortlessly up a slope, leading the way for a group of allied soldiers to ascend. The caption indicates that since the whole world trusts France's credit, the franc strengthens; meanwhile, since nobody trusts Germany's credit, its currency weakens. On the other side, a one mark coin rolls down a cliff. Barely supported by the soldiers who attempt to prevent its downfall, the wayward coin appears about to crush them.
In these posters, subscription to war loans is presented as essential to support the army and hasten the victory of the French troops. The poster ‘Souscrivez pour la Victoire’, by Richard Gutz, advertises subscriptions through the Banque nationale de crédit. It displays in the sunset, a female allegory of Victory, winged, in armour and wrapped in the French flag, leading through the air cavalry and infantry who bear French, British, Japanese, American and Serbian flags. The perspective of their triumphant charge contrasts with the scene below, depicting a mass of wounded and dead soldiers on the battlefield. The poster thus also highlights the cooperation of the allied forces.
A poster by the illustrator and painter Eugène Courboin, ‘Souscrivez à l’emprunt à la Société centrale des banques de province’, reminds the viewer of the historical links between France and America and the need for reciprocal help. It shows a colourful Uncle Sam shaking hands with a statue of the Marquis de Lafayette, the French general who fought for the Americans in the War of Independence of 1776.
Historical references and national symbols were a powerful way of exalting French patriotism, as in Jacques Carlu’s 1918 poster, dominated by the colours blue, white and red. La Marseillaise, the national revolutionary anthem written in Strasbourg in 1792 by Rouget de L’Isle (who features at the centre of the picture, one hand raised and the other on his chest), is described as returning triumphantly in 1918 with the allied armies (depicted behind Rouget). National and regional pride are stirred up by the allusion to Marseille and the reference to Alsace as a long-standing part of France. In the bottom left is a quote by the French Prime Minister Georges Clémenceau, ‘Allons donc enfants de la Patrie, allons achever de libérer les peuples’, which rewrites the national anthem by giving it an international scope: the liberation of the peoples.
A Liberation loan poster from the Paris headquarters of the Compagnie algérienne was made by the Belgian artist Maurice Romberg de Vaucorbeil who had travelled to Morocco and created an extensive body of work in North Africa. It depicts a heroic Algerian warrior in traditional costume riding a beautiful black stallion, with an elaborate script and the Arabic inscription ‘In the name of God’. It reminds us of the crucial role played by the French colonies and French colonial troops during the war.
The posters also give insights into the hope for peace and reconstruction, with the return of demobilised troops after the war. The poster ‘Emprunt de la Libération’, 1918, signed by ‘Perbural’, advertised for subscriptions to the Société Marseillaise for industrial and commercial credit and deposits. A woman in regional dress reaches up to gather laurel leaves which fall as crowns on a crowd of French soldiers returning under the sunshine with the word ‘victory’ above them. Despite the importance of regional elements like the laurel and the traditional dress, if you look closely at this poster you can see that the Marseille address has been covered over by that of the Paris offices.
Another poster advertising Liberation loans was issued by the Chambre des notaires de Beauvais. It features a black and white drawing by Lucien Jonas, an established painter who worked for the French Army and Navy during the war. In this case, the image does not depict armies but a single soldier bringing home two small girls. The elder wears a traditional Alsatian outfit (including the distinctive black bow headdress) and holding a French flag, while the younger wears the Lorraine cross and white bonnet. The image illustrates verses by Jules Favre, a statesman at the beginning of the Third French Republic, about the recovery of Alsace and Lorraine lost during the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71). Through liberation and victory, the happy scene, reminiscent of a joyful family reunion, embodies the territorial reunification of France at the end of the conflict.
Visual sources and ephemera are essential to our understanding of the First World War. Displaying nationalistic posters advertising the collecting of funds for the war effort to enable victory and support reconstruction at the time of the liberation of France emphasised the economic underpinning of the war and its monetary and social consequences. The posters illustrate the importance of financial history which is crucial to our understanding of the funding of the war and the social consequences of the economic situation. They carry powerful imagery and strong patriotic symbolism at regional, national and international levels. Although they display optimism and hope after the hardships of the war, the loan posters, which before and after the armistice appeal to civilian populations for the support of the army and the reconstruction of the country, demonstrate ongoing economic challenges and can also be seen to foreshadow indirectly the financial and political crises of the interwar period.
Irène Fabry-Tehranchi, Curator, Romance Collections
Jim Aulich and John Hewitt, Seduction or instruction? First World War posters in Britain and Europe (Manchester, 2007)
James Aulich, War posters : weapons of mass communication (London, 2007). fm08/.1008
Pearl James, Picture this : World War I posters and visual culture (Lincoln, 2009). YD.2012.a.2087
Allons enfants : publicité et propagande, 1914-1918, dir. Christine Vial Kayser et Géraldine Chopin (Louveciennes, 2014) YD.2012.a.2087
Krieg auf Plakaten = La guerre par l'affiche, bearbeitet, übersetzt und erweitert von Franz Maier auf der Grundlage der französischen Fassung von Sylvain Chimello und Charles Hiegel (Koblenz, 2000) SF.279[Bd.85]
La guerre des affiches : 1914-1918, la Grande Guerre racontée par les images de propagande, dir. Laurent Giordano (Grenoble, 2013) LF.31.b.11339
Benjamin Gilles et Arndt Weinrich, Une guerre des images : 1914-1918 : France-Allemagne (Paris, 2014) YF.2016.b.2117
Rémy Paillard, Affiches 14-18 (Reims, 1986). Cup.921/88
05 June 2018
In 1924 the German pacifist Ernst Friedrich published the first edition of one of the most powerful anti-war books of the 20th century. Krieg dem Kriege! = Guerre à la guerre! = War against war! = Oorlog an den oorlog! consisted mainly of photographs depicting the destruction wrought by the First World War, with captions in German, French, English and Dutch.
Friedrich came from a large working-class family – one of 13 children. He trained as an actor, making his stage debut in his native Breslau (now Wrocław) in 1914, but his career was cut short by the outbreak of war. As a conscientious objector he spent most of the war first in an asylum and later in prison. In the 1920s he became active in both socialist and anti-militarist groups, and Krieg dem Kriege reflects both tendencies.
The book opens with an address – again in all four languages – to ‘Human beings of all lands,’ in which Friedrich sets out his purpose: to ‘paint correctly this butchery of human beings’ in ‘records obtained by the inexorable, incorruptible photographic lens.’ While he blames capitalism for war, he also states that ‘it is … proletarians that make the conduct of war possible’ by agreeing to fight on behalf of their oppressors. He calls on men to refuse to serve and parents to bring up their children without military toys, games and songs, which ‘mobilise the child for the war idea.’
The pictures that follow are accompanied by sometimes ironic captions: a photograph of a burnt and mutilated corpse is captioned, ‘A “meritorious” achievement’, while two rotting skulls are set against a quotation from Kaiser Wilhelm II, ‘I lead you towards glorious times.’ Sometimes images are juxtaposed, for example a posed studio portrait of a uniformed soldier aiming his gun (‘The pride of the family’) with the bloody corpse of a shot infantryman. Other juxtapositions place the comforts enjoyed by officers and royalty against the suffering of ordinary soldiers, or show how the higher ranks are commemorated with taller or grander memorials than the lower, maintaining class distinctions even in death. The devastation wrought on landscapes and towns is also shown.
But most images stand alone with straightforward captions, showing the terrible reality of mass slaughter on a scale never before seen. Some of the most famous show severely mutilated soldiers – most notably a man with the whole lower half of his face destroyed – and maimed veterans back at menial work or begging for money. Friedrich seldom defines the wounded or dead in these pictures by nationality, forcing the reader to see them all as fellow-humans rather than compatriots, allies or enemies.
The book ends with an appeal for contributions to an ‘International Anti-War Museum’ which Friedrich opened in Berlin in 1925. Like the book, the museum sought to illustrate the true horrors of war and to encourage pacifist and antimilitarist education.
Above: The appeal for contributions to an Anti-War museum, from Krieg dem Kriege. Below: A display at the museum, from Vom Friedens-Museum - zur Hitler-Kaserne : ein Tatsachenbericht über das Wirken von Ernst Friedrich und Adolf Hitler (Geneva, 1935) YA.1990.a.20970
Friedrich continued to campaign against war and for greater social justice, but even in the supposedly tolerant era of the Weimar Republic his publications were frequently banned and he was jailed for his political activities in 1930. He and the museum were early targets for the burgeoning Nazi movement; once the Nazi were in power, Friedrich was swiftly arrested, the museum was destroyed and the building was turned into an SA clubhouse.
On his release, Friedrich left Germany. In 1935 he published an account of the museum and its fate, Vom Friedens-Museum – zur Hitler-Kaserne, in the name of the ‘Interational Committee for the Re-establishment of the Peace Museum’. In 1936 he was able to reopen the museum in Brussels, but it was once again destroyed when Belgium fell to the Germans in 1940. After some months of internment in France, Friedrich escaped and joined the French resistance. He was involved in saving a group of Jewish children from deportation and, despite his pacifism, took part in the battles to liberate Nîmes and Alès and was twice wounded.
Friedrich remained in France after the Second World War. Attempts to re-create the museum were unsuccessful, but compensation payments for his suffering under the Nazis enabled him to buy first a ‘peace barge’ and later a small island in the River Seine, which he named the ‘Ile de la Paix’ and where he established an international youth centre for peace and reconciliation.
After Friedrich’s death in 1967 the island was sold and the centre pulled down. However, his work lives on. In 1982 a new Anti-War Museum opened in Berlin. The museum continues to highlight the brutality of war, and has also reissued both Krieg dem Kriege and Vom Friedens-Museum – zur Hitler-Kaserne. Both museum and books remain as a worthy tribute to a man who devoted his life to the cause of peace.
Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections
The British Library’s copy of Krieg dem Kriege is currently on display in the exhibition Aftermath: Art in the Wake of World War One at Tate Britain, which runs from 5 June to 23 September 2018.
29 January 2018
PhD students are invited to apply for a placement which focuses on the British Library’s collection of French First World War posters. Working with the European and Americas collections curatorial team, this three-month placement offers an exciting opportunity to research, catalogue and promote the collection to the widest possible audience in the context of the anniversary of the First World War.
H. Delaspre, L’infanterie française dans la bataille. Tab. 11748.a. Box 3, poster 238.
The collection, which spans the period 1914-1918, consists mostly of propaganda posters and includes advertisements for war loans, calls for donations to charitable causes, and official proclamations. One third of the posters are illustrated and the rest are text based.
The project will enhance the discoverability and public awareness of this collection (there are some 350 posters, but only one generic catalogue record which hides the wealth and appeal of the collection). The posters constitute invaluable primary material for research. They promote national identity, aim to sustain the morale of the home front, and demonstrate solidarity between the French army and the Allies.
Andrée Médard, Fumeurs de l’arrière économisez le tabac pour que nos soldats n’en manquent pas. Tab. 11748.a. Box 6 poster 247.
During their placement at the British Library, the PhD student will produce descriptive records for the posters, researching and recording their key features (issuing organisation, artist, date, location, and context). These records will be made visible in the Library’s online catalogue.
The student will also promote the posters and their research findings by contributing posts about the collection to the European Studies blog and twitter account. They will also have the opportunity to write an article on the collection for publication and to contribute to Library events.
Daniel Ridgway Knight. 3e Emprunt de la Défense Nationale. Le bas de laine français. 1917. Tab. 11748.a. Box 3 poster 269.
The placement is open to PhD students from all disciplines and academic backgrounds; however, good knowledge of written French is essential, and knowledge of early 20th century European history and/or visual arts would be an advantage.
Victor Prouvé. Hygiène de Guerre. 1918. Tab. 11748.a. Box 2 poster 302.
The research placements offered through this scheme are opportunities for current PhD students to apply and enhance research skills and expertise outside of Higher Education as part of their wider research training and professional development. They are training and development opportunities to be undertaken within this specific context and are therefore different to the paid internships or other fixed-term posts that the Library may occasionally make available.
Please note that – unlike for an internship or a fixed-term post – the British Library is unable to provide stipends or payment to PhD placement students. It is therefore essential that applicants to the placement scheme obtain the support of their PhD supervisor and Graduate Tutor (or someone in an equivalent senior academic management role) in advance and that, as part of their process, they consult their HEI to ascertain what funding is available to support them.
After the interview stage, students who have been offered a placement and are not able to cover the costs through funding from their university or other sources may apply to the Library’s PhD Placement Travel Fund to request help to cover day-to-day commuting expenses or one-off relocation travel costs only. Please note that this Fund is limited and the success of an application to it cannot be guaranteed.
To support self-funded and part-time students, the placements can be done on a part-time basis, and some remote working is possible.
Lucien Jonas. Emprunt de la libération. Souscrivez. 1918. Tab. 11748.a. Box 6 poster 279.
Teresa Vernon, Lead Curator Romance Collections / Irène Fabry-Tehranchi, Curator Romance Collections
08 November 2017
In November 1918, the first anniversary of the Bolshevik military insurrection (as the October Revolution was then known) was ‘celebrated in style’ in Soviet Russia. Around 3,500 metres of red fabric was allocated for decorating the Kremlin in Moscow. Over 400 metres of ropes were supposed to hold posters and panels during the celebration. On 7 November 1918 Lenin, who had made a remarkably prompt recovery after being seriously wounded in an assassination attempt some two months earlier, managed to give several speeches in different parts of Moscow. A large memorial plaque in commemoration of those who lost their lives “in the struggle for peace and the brotherhood of nations” was unveiled on Red Square and a temporary monument to Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels was also erected in the centre of the capital. A mass show “The Pantomime of the Great Revolution” was staged in the streets. Such mass festivals and reenactments of “revolutionary events” would soon become a usual feature of each commemoration and celebration in the early years of Soviet Russia. You can see photographs of those first anniversary celebrations here.
Those Russian artists who embraced the Bolshevik Revolution were happy to glorify it in arts. Vladimir Mayakovski was quite active in promoting the celebrations. For the first anniversary he wrote a ‘comic opera’ – Misteriia-buff (Mystery-Bouffe) – which was accepted to be part of the festivities. Staged by the famous theatre director Vsevolod Meyerhold with designs by Kazimir Malevich the play was premiered on 7 November 1918 and then shown two more times. The author also appeared on stage as a ‘common man’, but then had to play a couple more roles as some actors did not turn up.
Above: Designs by Kazimir Malevich, from Istoriia sovetskogo teatra ed ited by V.E.Rafalobich, Vol.1 (Leningrad, 1933). Ac.4635.ca.6; Below: Vladimir Mayakovski, poster for Misteriia-buff, 1918. From The Soviet theatrical poster (Leningrad, 1977). HS.74/2256
Seven pairs of ‘clean’ (‘bloodsuckers’) and seven pairs of ‘unclean’ (‘workers’), as well as The Hysterical Lady, The Common Man (The Man of the Future), Devils, Saints (including Leo Tolstoy and Jean-Jacques Rousseau) performed a ‘satirical drama’ in The Entire universe, The Ark, Hell, Paradise, Land of Chaos and finally – in The Promised Land. By the end of the year the play was published as a separate edition.
Cover by Mayakovski for the 1st edition of Misteriia-buff. (Petrograd, 1918). C.135.g.23
The Revolution affected everyone in the country, but it was also important for avant-garde artists and the Bolsheviks as well to stress the final divide between the past and the present, the rich and poor, the victors and losers, the heroes and victims and leave no space in between so that each and every one should clearly take sides. This irreversible split was also presented in another work by Mayakovski created for the anniversary – the album of drawings and short verses Geroi i zhertvy revoliutsii (‘Heroes and Victims of the Revolution’; Cup.410.c.81). Heroes (Worker, Red Army Soldier, Farm Labourer, Sailor, Seamstress, Laundress, Motorist, Telegraph Operator and Railway Worker) and Victims (Factory Owner, Banker, Landlord, Kulak, Lady, Priest, Bureaucrat, General and Merchant) are presented by four artists: Kseniia Boguslavskaia , Vladimir Kozlinskii, Sergei Makletsov and Ivan Puny.
And here are some of the ‘Victims’: Merchant, Kulak, Lady and Priest
It was proven before and happened this time again – Revolution devours its children. In 1919, Boguslavskaia and Puny left Russia for good; in 1930 Mayakovski committed suicide; in 1935, Malevich died of cancer having been banned from exhibiting ‘bourgeois’ abstract art; and in 1940, Meyerhold was shot dead in Stalin’s purges as an ‘enemy of the people’.
Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections
29 August 2017
As our exhibition Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths closes, the curatorial team involved share some memories, favourite items and ones that got away.
Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator
My research on the exhibition brought me to the State Russian Library in Moscow. I’m extremely grateful to all the Russian colleagues who work there. They allowed me into their storage rooms and brought piles of folders with Soviet and Russian posters, postcards and other visual ephemera. I wanted to get on loan and show here, in London, everything: colourful candy wrappers with a picture of the brave Cossack Kozma Kriuchkov (eventually we decided to honour him in the exhibition with a poster from the British Library holdings), letter-templatess addressed to relatives from the front lines so that illiterate soldiers could send greetings home, photographs of the devastation in the Moscow Kremlin in November 1917, and many more.
But, of course, the one poster that would have been so appropriate was this one – Veriu, sotuiu vstretim godovshchinu! – I believe, we will celebrate the centenary!
Image from http://www.sovposters.ru/view/347
The artist, who created this optimistic image in a pretty avant-garde style was Iurii Bondi (1889-1926). Curiously, his works for the Kostroma ROSTA (the Russian news agency) survived and today can be seen online, although he was best known among his contemporaries as a theatre artist and set designer, whose works often inspired the great Meyerhold, whom Bondi was working with. Bondi’s book illustrations were loved and praised by another big Russian celebrity of the early 20th century – poet Alexander Blok. We did not bring this poster to the British Library and did not ‘celebrate’ the centenary, but here is our one more chance to learn about people who lived through this extraordinary time.
Susan Reed, Co-Curator
Working on the Russian Revolution exhibition has been a wonderful experience, but also a steep learning curve since I am – full disclosure time! – not a Russian specialist. I found myself learning lots of things I didn’t know about Russia and the Revolution of 1917, and discovering that some things I thought I knew were not as I had believed. I even discovered an unfamiliar bit of my own national history, the intervention of British troops in Northern Russia during the Russian Civil War.
In fact it was researching British involvement in Revolutionary Russia that led to one of my more exciting moments: finding a map in the National Archives drawn by Arthur Ransome for a report advocating intervention, which showed where food supplies were most plentiful. I almost jumped out of my seat! As a child I loved Ransome’s ‘Swallows and Amazons’ books with his hand-drawn maps on the end-papers, and here was a map with the same neat handwriting and detailed annotations, only this time in a deadly serious cause.
I was also able to advise on material from my actual area of expertise, Germany, where revolutions broke out in November 1918 and short-lived soviet-style governments were established in several cities. One of my favourite images in the exhibition is a cartoon from early 1918 showing a ‘Trojan Horse’ full of Bolsheviks being towed into Berlin, an example of how fears of revolution spread through Europe following events in Russia. Of course we had less space to deal with the revolutions outside Russia, but if there’s one exhibit I’d have liked to be able to show in this context, it’s Käthe Kollwitz’s picture of the murdered revolutionary Karl Liebknecht. Sadly we don’t have a copy ourselves, and decided not to borrow one, but like so much of Kollwitz’s work, it’s a powerful and moving image.
Käthe Kollwitz, Memorial for Karl Liebknecht, 1919. (Image from WikiArt)
Mike Carey, Collaborative Doctoral Student Nottingham University and BL
One thing we didn't get a chance to say much about was the impact of the Russian Revolution on the Chinese Revolution. A favourite item of mine which didn't make the final exhibit list is H.T. Tsiang's 'China Red' . The British Library has a copy signed by the author. He was a Communist, worked for Sun Yat-Sen's secretary up to 1925 during the first United Front, then emigrated to the USA when the KMT-Communist alliance split.
Cover (above) and author's signature (below) from H.S. Tsiang, China Red (New York, 1932) YD.2008.a.9385.
It's a series of letters between an émigré Chinese revolutionary in the USA and his partner who stayed behind, chronicling the split in 1926-7. It opens with a poem about Lenin which is quite eccentric:
Who is that guy?"
"He is not big
Neither is he high;
He has two hands,
And a pair of eyes;
Just as human
As you and I. ..."
H.T. Tsiang ended up working as an extra in Hollywood films – there’s a show-reel of him on Vimeo playing various caricatures and stereotypes. According to one account he became known in Hollywood for an ‘R-rated, one-man, one-hour adaptation of Hamlet’ which he performed every Friday night for ‘a dozen years’ (this Slate article has more about Tsiang).
Katie McElvanney, Collaborative Doctoral Student QMUL and BL
Over the past two and a half years, my involvement in the exhibition has included selecting and translating materials, developing storylines and concepts, meeting with curators in Moscow to discus loans, writing object labels and articles on women and journalism for the British Library website, and producing the timeline for both the website and the book published to accompanying the exhibition. Some of my favourite items on display include a beautiful hand-drawn wall newspaper issued by a local women’s collective in Yalta (complete with a sketch of the ultimate multi-tasking woman!) and an early Soviet propaganda poster promoting literacy.
One of the most valuable and rewarding aspects of working on an exhibition as part of a CDP is the chance to see how it takes shape over the three year period, from the early research and brainstorming stages through to the opening. As one of two CDP students working on the Russian Revolution exhibition project, I have benefited immensely from the knowledge, experience and support of a wider academic and exhibition team, as well as the wide range of British Library and CDP training and events on offer. While juggling the different aspects of a CDP is not without its challenges, I feel extremely fortunate and proud to have worked on the exhibition and to have gained such a range of experiences outside the immediate academic sphere of the PhD.
We'd like to thank all the many colleagues within the BL who also put so much work into the exhibition, our external lenders and advisers, and the many people who have come to visit. We hope you have enjoyed seeing the exhibition as much as we enjoyed working on it!
19 May 2017
One of the main founders of Soviet political poster design, Dmitrii Orlov was born in 1883 in Novochekassk to the family of an engineer. In 1898 the family moved to Moscow. Although the young artist did not receive a systematic training, he started publishing caricatures in the satirical magazines that thrived during a short period after the first revolution in Russia in 1905. Early in his career, Orlov adopted the pseudonym D. Moor, alluding to Karl Moor, one of the protagonists in Friedrich Schiller’s romantic play The Robbers.
Having started as a caricaturist in satirical magazines, Moor was very much influenced by the German satirical publication Simplicissimus (British Library LOU.F459) and the Norwegian artist and designer Olaf Gulbransson, known for his clear lines and emphasis on linking verbal and non-verbal messages. Moor’s artistic style also incorporated imagery from silent films with their exaggerated emotions, which can be seen on this film poster:
It is interesting that he returned to a similar style in the 1930s: the worker on this poster bears a striking resemblance to the criminal from the film poster:
Today Moor is probably best known for his famous Red Army Recruitment poster of 1920, which appears on the poster for our current exhibition, Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths. Moor is also considered one of the main founders of that unique area of Soviet art – political poster design. His other striking posters, well known to Soviet audiences, include ‘Wrangel is still alive! Finish him off without mercy!’ and ‘Be on Your Guard!’
Here the right shoulder and raised leg of the Red Army soldier actually become the western state border, and thus the soldier personifies the state. His body is the body of Soviet Russia (his back rests against and fuses into the Urals, depicted as the bony ‘spine’ of the country – in Russian the same word means both ‘spine’ and ‘mountain range’). The vitality and resilience of the state is equated with the strength and will of its citizenry-in-arms.
Moor’s Alphabet for a Red Army Soldier, published in 1921, is a small book of cartoons intended to teach soldiers literacy as such and ‘political literacy’ at the same time: each letter is illustrated by a picture emphasising the special mission and the triumphs of the Soviet forces. The letter ‘G’ is the initial letter of the Russian word goret’ (‘to burn’), and the inscription to this picture reads: ‘The Earth burns with a fire lit by the worker’s hand.’ Trotsky and the other Bolshevik leaders hoped to instil in the Red Army a sense of historic mission, and an understanding that it was not simply a conventional national army but the custodian of world revolution.
In the image for the letter ‘IA’ (Я), which also means the pronoun ‘I’ in Russian, the artist emphasised the idea of the new world and the new man who from now on will dominate in space and time for the next century: “The new Man has come! Long live the century of the Commune!”:
And there are examples of Moor’s caricature style, where enemies of the Soviet state look miserable and laughable. However, in most of the cases Moor uses the narrative and graphical themes that were very common and reproduced in many variations, such as Lenin sweeping the counter-revolutionary elements out of the country or a collection of ‘typical’ enemies opposing the new way of life.
In the 1920s Moor worked for the anti-religious satirical newspaper The Godless and its reincarnation as the satirical magazine The Godless at the Workbench. The secularization of society and promotion of atheism was a crucial element of the ‘cultural revolution’ desired by the Bolsheviks, as Orthodox Christianity had been a pillar of support for the Tsarist state. Under Stalin anti-religious propaganda soon became quite aggressive. In 1925 the League of Militant Atheists, a volunteer organisation that promoted anti-religious views, was formed. In this image the peasant is sneezing out his religious beliefs under the supervision of the worker.
Many art critics compared the aesthetics of Moor’s posters with the aesthetics and compositions of Sergei Eisenstein’s films and this is this is very true, as Moor was always thinking about perception of his works. For example, he wrote that a poster artist should not only be a complete craftsman in graphics, but also analyse the situation in which his art would be seen. He suggested that a poster artist should know the speed with which passers-by walk, the width of the streets in his town, the position of lights in the evening and many other things. It is not surprising then that his piece of agitation art invites you – or commands you – to come to our exhibition.
Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections
The British Library’s exhibition Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths is open until 29 August 2017, telling the extraordinary story of the Russian Revolution from the reign of Russia’s last Tsar to the rise of the first communist state. You can also read articles from our experts exploring some of the themes of our exhibition on our Russian Revolution website.
15 May 2017
Last year we published a blog post asking for information on two photographs by the American photographer Donald C. Thompson, widely published as images of Lenin and Trotsky in the English-speaking world but, with the benefit of hindsight, clearly not pictures of the two revolutionary leaders. We knew for certain who they were not, but struggled to find out who they were and what they were doing.
After some digging, Katya Rogatchevskaia (Lead Curator of East European Collections and of the exhibition, Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths) managed to find the photographs reproduced in Russian and French publications. The elusive revolutionaries were found in a Russian ‘album of current events’ for the years 1914 to 1917 Voina i Revolutsiia (‘War and Revolution’).
Donald Thompson’s photographs as published in Voina i Revolutsiia ([Petrograd, 1918?]) British Library X.802/4756.
The top-left photograph identifies the speaker as ‘German agent’ Robert Grimm, leaving the other man unidentified. The bottom photograph identifies the figures as ‘internationalists’, including Christian Rakovsky, Grimm, and Angelica Balabanova. They are shown laying wreaths at the Field of Mars in St. Petersburg (then Petrograd), where victims of the February Revolution were buried on 23 May 1917. This fits perfectly with Thompson’s story about when and where he took the photographs of ‘Lenin and Trotsky’, even if the figures are not right.
Robert Grimm (1881-1958) was a Swiss socialist, and a chief organiser of the anti-war Zimmerwald movement during the First World War. He was allowed into Russia after the fall of the first Provisional Government, led by Lvov, in May 1917, and became active in the anti-war movement. Grimm was embroiled in scandal while trying to gauge the German response to the Soviet desire for peace, which was interpreted as trying to get Russia to pull out of the war unilaterally and seen as a betrayal of the Allied cause – hence, Voina i Revolutsiia describes him as a ‘German agent’. This was by no means the end of his political career, however. Grimm led the Swiss General Strike of November 1918, and in 1946 became President of the Swiss National Council.
Robert Grimm (Image from Wikimedia Commons).
Angelica Balabanova (1878-1965) was another Zimmerwald activist of mixed Russian, Jewish, and Italian heritage. She joined the Bolsheviks and in 1919 became the secretary of the Communist International (Comintern), but grew critical of the authoritarian Bolshevik style of socialism and returned to Italy.
At first I was uncertain about the identification of Christian Rakovsky (1873-1941), even though he was a known friend and collaborator of Grimm and Balabanova – I had only ever seen pictures of him clean-shaven and looking much younger than the figure in the photograph. However, it would make sense for him to be present alongside his Zimmerwald comrades. Rakovsky was a Bulgarian revolutionary who was also involved in the Zimmerwald movement, who had been freed from imprisonment in May 1917 – explaining, possibly, his haggard appearance in the photographs later in that month.
Christian Rakovsky in military uniform after the Bolshevik revolution (image from Wikimedia Commons.)
Other photographs and images do show him sporting a beard, like this piece of anti-Bolshevik and anti-Semitic propaganda, with leading revolutionaries (including Alexander Kerensky alongside the Bolsheviks as part of a putative Jewish conspiracy against the Russian state) engaged in a ritual murder, evoking the history of the ‘blood libel’ myth.
White movement propaganda poster showing Rakovsky with a beard, kneeling in the centre beneath Lenin, from Wikimedia Commons.
Rakovsky joined the Bolsheviks at the end of 1917 and took a number of leading roles, including as the leader of a failed Communist revolution in the Kingdom of Rumania and then the first head of government for the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. His fate was less happy than Grimm’s – Rakovsky aligned with Trotsky and developed a critique of Stalinist ‘bureaucratic centralism’ in the Soviet Union. He became a high-profile victim of the Moscow Trials in 1938, confessing to spurious charges of espionage on behalf of the British, German and Japanese imperialists during the show trials, and was executed in 1941.
So, the two pictures of ‘Lenin and Trotsky’ may actually be of three people – Grimm, Rakovsky, and another. One possible, though uncertain, identity of this ‘third man’ comes from the French source. The images also appear in the Histoire des Soviets series (Paris, 1922-3; 1854.g.15.).This album was edited by Jacques Makowsky (1894-1981), a Jewish master-printer to Tsar Nicholas II who fled Russia for France after the Revolution.
With the Nazi invasion of France in 1940 Makowsky was forced to flee once more to America, where his wife and he became famous for cross-breeding the Rock Cornish game hen – ‘a succulent bird with all-white meat, large enough for a single serving’. There is a compilation of this beautifully printed and illustrated series on YouTube here, with one of the photographs in question visible at 0:21.
One of the covers of the Histoire des Soviets series (Paris, 1922-3) 1854.g.15.
We get our third name from here: Mikhail Martinov (1882-1919). Martinov was a Bolshevik revolutionary who had been elected chairman of the particularly left-wing Kronstadt Soviet. Not long after these photographs were taken Martinov was elected to the commission charged with planning the armed demonstration of workers, soldiers and sailors which developed into the violent July Days. Martinov himself met a violent end just two years later, killed in a counter-revolutionary uprising at Krasnaia Gorka during the advance of the White General Yudenich’s army towards Petrograd.
We can’t be certain that the Histoire is correct on this point, as although it correctly says that Grimm was in the photographs, it mistakenly identifies the wrong figure as him. As for Martinov, I know of no other photographs with which to compare, but it is perfectly feasible that he would have been present at this event. Much of the mystery has been solved, but this point still remains to be verified or supported with other evidence.
Mike Carey, CDA Student, British Library and University of Nottingham
Christo Boyadjieff, Racovski: The Vanquished Socialist (Rio de Janeiro, 1984) YA.1991.a.16859
Israel Getzler, Kronstadt 1917-1921: The Fate of a Soviet Democracy (London, 1983) X.529/54596
R. Craig Nation, War on War: Lenin, the Zimmerwald Left, and the Origins of Communist Internationalism (London, 1989) YC.1992.b.4587
The British Library’s exhibition Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths is open until 29 August 2017, telling the extraordinary story of the Russian Revolution from the reign of Russia’s last Tsar to the rise of the first communist state. You can also read articles from our experts exploring some of the themes of our exhibition on our Russian Revolution website.
10 May 2017
The status of women in the Soviet Union and their role in the construction of the new Socialist society are issues that spur great enthusiasm and debate. Even for the less-studied regions of the USSR, such as Central Asia and the Steppe, a number of scholars are blazing new trails towards an understanding of gender and its impact on the Soviet experiment. Their research dissects the imbrication of gender, class, ethnicity, religion and political affiliation that went into constructing the identities of Soviet women during this period.
But what exactly did these identities look like? Given the myriad of experiences embodied by Central Asians during this period, we will never know for certain just what it was like to be a woman in Stalin’s Uzbekistan or Tajikistan. We do know, however, what the Communist Party wanted it to be like, thanks to a series of periodicals held at the British Library.
Cover of the April 1927 issue of Yangi Yo’l 14499.tt.16
Yangi Yo’l (‘New Way’) was a monthly women’s and girls’ periodical published by the Uzbekistan Communist Party (Bolshevik) Central Committee for Women. The British Library holds only four issues, all from 1926-27: Volume 1, Nos 11-12 and 13-16; and Volume 2 Nos 4-7 and 9. The articles, supplemented heavily by photographs, sketches and diagrams, are all written in the old Perso-Arabic script. The new Latin alphabet proposed for the Turkic languages in 1926 made only sporadic appearances, never in a form meant to teach readers how to use it.
While the magazine might not have been used to keep women and girls up to date with pedagogical innovations, it did seek to broaden their horizons far beyond the traditional domestic arena. An article on ‘Women-Girls’ Services in World Production’, which appeared in Nos 10 and 11-12, provides ample evidence of women’s participation in professions previously reserved for men. Photographs illustrate unveiled, smiling women operating machinery, lugging barrels, laying bricks and making horseshoes over a large anvil.
These pictures all show white women at work, rather than “emancipated” Uzbek or Central Asian women. They form part of a complicated and checkered history in which cultural imperialism and feminism intersected in a concerted effort to change the status of non-Western women. The images raise the question of how exactly the readers of these periodicals would have identified the new modern Soviet woman. Was she healthy, happy and productive on her own, participating in the construction of a Socialist paradise; or were light skin and large eyes a necessary component of that portrait too?
Indeed, Uzbek women workers strike a stark contrast with their Russian counterparts when we consider their representation in other articles. A photograph in No. 15 shows Uzbek silk makers at work: a group of middle-aged women, all but one with her hair covered, and none using machinery. Similar to this is the picture of a group of Samarqandi female artisans, also deprived of modern labour-saving devices.
This is a far cry from the smiling, independent woman of the earlier piece, but it is likely a truer depiction of Uzbek women in the 1920s. Compare these with the images of veiled women attending a new school or the Turkmen village women watching children at a communal crèche.
The reality of Central Asian women was evidently less rosy and progressive than the image promoted by Moscow and local Communist Party cadres. That utopia, apparently, belonged to the generations yet to come, as in the scene of new graduates observing a science experiment. These girls are dressed as their Russian counterparts in Moscow or Leningrad would have been, and they demonstrate the manner in which the construction of a new Soviet society would involve the importation of social and cultural norms from the centres of Soviet power, rather than a liberalization of local contexts and restraints.
Yangi Yol : This Years New Graduates observe an Experiment at the Uzbek Peoples Science Village
Foreign Asian women were also featured in articles about liberation, albeit in a different context. The piece from No. 11-12 that follows the exposition of women’s participation in the workforce looks at ‘The Family Question in Tibet (Mongolia)’ . The work contains information that surely would have shocked many conservative women in Central Asia, including socially sanctioned pre-marital sexual relations and fornication, and female as well as male polygamy. It also recounts in detail marriage customs, education patterns and inheritance laws among the peoples of Tibet, as if to acquaint the girls and women of Central Asia with their sisters abroad. Similar articles about the women of China and Java and the girls of India would lead us to believe that Yangi Yo’l replicated a common Soviet strategy: building class-based solidarity among the dominated peoples of the world with Moscow, or at least the USSR, as the lynchpin of resistance.
The Women and Girls of China along with sketch of bound foot
The Women and Girls of Java.
In general, there is not much in Yangi Yo’l that we would identify as typical of a contemporary women’s magazine. There are articles about women’s social status, the education of girls, the eradication of child marriage, domestic issues and hygiene, but these are not the core of the publication. Much of the content is taken up with standard class warfare writing tinged with gender issues: the working woman fighting the faceless bourgeoisie and beys; elegiac poetry about Lenin and his importance for proletarian and peasant women; and the meaning of land reform for women workers. They fight for space with articles that might be classified more as general knowledge than women’s issues. These include pieces on the indigenous peoples of the Indian Ocean and an explanation of solar eclipses; an account of the Paris Commune; an exposé on climate and its science; and the wonders of Tutankhamen’s tomb. As much as the periodical was intended to educate and elevate women, it was also a means of broadening their horizons, introducing them to a common (largely Western) culture, and to entertain them with stories of the fabulous and awe-inspiring.
The Library’s collections of Yangi Yo’l do not extend past 1927. Indeed, it is unclear if the periodical continued to be published past this date. This dearth of information deprives us of knowing how the presentation of women and their role within the new Soviet society changed once Joseph Stalin cemented his grip on the reins of the Communist Party. What we do have, however, is a window onto the tail-end of a grand – and perhaps naïve – experiment that sought to remodel Central Asian women according to the prototype of the ideal revolutionary proletariat.
Michael Erdman, Turkish and Turkic Curator
Contemporary Soviet Turkic Periodicals of Interest:
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