08 December 2022
Propaganda or Protest? Hans Baumann’s ‘Alexander’
A few months ago one of the curators of our current exhibition ‘Alexander the Great: the Making of a Myth’ asked me for some information about a book they were thinking of including (but eventually did not). This was a German play of 1941, Alexander, by Hans Baumann, a writer whose career had flourished in the Third Reich, especially through the many songs he wrote for the Nazi youth movements.
Cover of Hans Baumann, Alexander (Jena, 1941) X.950/2122.
Baumann’s play is set after Alexander’s conquests in India and depicts the conflict between Alexander’s desire to advance further and that of his army to return home. Generals Cleitus and Craterus, sons of Admiral Nearchus, plot with relatives of the former Persian king Darius to encourage mutiny in the army, hoping that this will force Alexander to return to Macedon and place Persia back in the hands of Darius’s family. They initially succeed in rousing the army, but Alexander kills Cleitus to avenge an insult, and Craterus is executed for killing Alexander’s friend Hephaestion. Although the mutiny is crushed, the last scenes hint at Alexander’s own death, and it is left to Nearchus, still loyal to Alexander despite his sons’ deaths, to lead the Macedonian fleet onwards, inspired by Alexander’s example.
The plot plays fast and loose with history: Cleitus and Craterus were neither brothers nor Nearchus’s sons, Hephaestion died some time later and was not murdered by Craterus, who outlived Alexander. Baumann was clearly more concerned with symbolism than history. The play is reminiscent of a ‘Thingspiel’, a form of stylised drama designed for outdoor performance, often using historical events as allegories of the present. Baumann himself had written a Thingspiel, Rüdiger von Bechelaren, in 1939 and elements of the genre, particularly a rather static presentation and the use of choruses, remain in Alexander.
The play was widely praised on publication and won two literary prizes. It caught the attention of the actor Gustaf Gründgens, then Artistic Director of the Berlin State Theatre, who asked Baumann for permission to stage Alexander. The premiere on 19 June 1941, with Gründgens in the title role, was well received, but the play, according to different accounts, ran for only two, six or seven performances.
Gustaf Gründgens in the role of Alexander in Baumann’s play
These different accounts have much to do with Baumann’s later claim that Alexander was an expression of his growing unease at Germany’s aggression, and a plea for Hitler to treat his conquered peoples with clemency and respect as Alexander is shown to treat the Persians. In 1985 Baumann told the scholar Jay W. Baird that Goebbels had been offended by this message and ordered the play’s closure after its second performance (Baird, p. 168). Peter Jammerthal, however, in his dissertation on the Berlin State Theatre in the Third Reich, states that the play ran for seven nights, the last being a private performance for Hitler Youth members. He does agree that the play’s message was uncomfortable for the regime, but more because the depiction of mutinous generals and discord in the army sat ill with the planned attack on the Soviet Union which began on 22 June 1941 (Jammerthal, p. 211).
Most other writers agree that the invasion of the USSR was the primary reason for the play’s short run, with Gründgens worried that unwanted parallels might be drawn. (Alfred Mühr also suggests that Gründgens was increasingly disenchanted with the play and unhappy in the role (Mühr, p. 195)). However, there is disagreement as to how much Baumann’s alleged dramatization of his growing doubts about the regime affected the decision to close Alexander, and indeed how much the play truly does reflect such doubts. For all the praise of clemency there is plenty of talk of great men, great deeds, and the need to strive onwards which would not be out of place in standard Nazi propaganda rhetoric.
After the war Baumann forged a new and highly successful career primarily as a children’s writer, although his former role as the ‘bard of the Hitler Youth’ and the promotion and awards given to his work by the Nazi regime returned to haunt him in various literary scandals. His claims about Alexander and its cancellation were important in his attempts to distance himself from the past. But although he described himself as having increasingly withdrawn from glorifying the Nazis, his record suggests somewhat otherwise. In 1942 he edited and contributed to a volume of laudatory essays, Der Retter Europas (‘The Saviour of Europe’), marking Hitler’s birthday, and as late as April 1944 he addressed Hitler Youth members in Passau, using typical Nazi rhetoric about ‘Bolshevik hordes’ and treacherous neighbours, and warning against accepting ‘a dishonourable and deadly “peace”’ from their enemies (Rosmus, p. 280).
Baird suggests that Baumann had continued to toe the propaganda line out of reluctant necessity, and that his post-war children’s books reflected an ‘intellectual transformation’ (Baird, p. 171). Others, however, such as the literary critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki and the children’s writer Gudrun Pausewang took a more critical view, arguing that the post-war Baumann had never truly admitted the extent of his complicity with the Nazis and of his role in turning a generation of young people into willing fighters for Hitler and his regime through the propaganda in his songs.
Cover of Hans Baumann, Der große Alexanderzug (Munich, 1967) X21/6285
Baumann returned to the theme of Alexander the Great in one of his historical novels for children, Der große Alexanderzug, published in English by Stella Humphries as Alexander’s Great March (London, 1968; X.709/6502). The story is narrated by one of Alexander’s couriers, who concludes that ‘Alexander did not inspire my love’ but that he did have admirable qualities, especially in the way ‘he removed the distinctions between the conquerors and the conquered, [and] reconciled the nations in spite of the opposition of his own people’. This was what the older Baumann described as the key message of his Alexander play, and it is significant that he ended his children’s novel on the same note. Was it perhaps a message to his critics, and a reinforcement of his argument that Alexander was a veiled critique of aggressive Nazi expansionism? We will probably never know, but the history of this play and its author tell a fascinating if inconclusive story.
Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections
Jay W. Baird, To Die for Germany: Heroes in the Nazi Pantheon (Bloomington, 1990) YA.1991.b.6310
Peter Jammerthal, Ein zuchtvolles Theater: Bühnenästhetik des Dritten Reiches. Das Berliner Staatstheater von der Machtergreifung bis zur Ära Gründgens. Dissertation, Freie Universität Berlin, 2007 https://refubium.fu-berlin.de/handle/fub188/4017
Alfred Mühr, Mephisto ohne Maske: Gustaf Gründgens, Legende und Wahrheit (Munich, 1981) X.950/15850
Anna Rosmus, Hitlers Nibelungen: Niederbayern im Aufbruch zu Krieg und Untergang (Grafenau, 2015) YF.2016.b.1305
Marcel Reich-Ranicki, ‘Hans Baumann’ Die Zeit, 9 March 1962 https://web.archive.org/web/20140202135736/https://www.zeit.de/1962/10/hans-baumann/komplettansicht
Karl H. Ruppel, Berliner Schauspiel: dramaturgische Betrachtungen 1936 bis 1942 (Berlin, 1943) 11868.aaa.19.
‘Hans Baumann’ Regensburg europäisch: Jahresgabe 2016.
Wilhelm Haefs, ‘Hans Baumann. Die Karriere eines Schriftstellers im Nationalsozialismus’, Das Bücherschloss: Mitteilungen aus der Internationalen Jugendbibliothek, 2016-2017 (‘Themenheft Hans-Baumann-Tagung’), pp. 20-39. ZF.9.a.7322
‘Hans Baumann’, Literaturportal Bayern
10 June 2022
Meet the Curators: A News-themed Session – 23 June 2022
Exploring five centuries of UK news through broadsheets, blogs and objects, the British Library’s current exhibition, Breaking the News, challenges and seeks to change the way we think about news.
A poster advertising the University of Poznań Solidarity journal Serwis Informacyjny Komisji Zakładowej NSZZ «Solidarność» przy UAM w Poznaniu. BL shelf mark Sol. 764
Looking beyond the UK focus of Breaking the News, on Thursday 23 June curators from the European, Americas and Oceania collections will be in conversation about items from their collection areas that speak to the themes of the exhibition and that they think deserve a spotlight. Join us for a friendly look behind the curating scenes as we discover unique collection items that illuminate news and the role it plays in our lives.
This free, online event will take place on Thursday 23 June 2022, 12.30 – 1.30pm. To register, please visit the Library’s event page. Bookers will be sent a Zoom link in advance giving access.
This session is run in partnership with the Library’s Asia and Africa department, whose parallel event takes place on Thursday 16th June 2022.
07 September 2018
Protestant Propaganda from the Thirty Years’ War
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.
Europa querulata et vulnerata 1750.b.29.(124). An allegorical broadside showing Europe lamenting the wounds dealt to her by the war.
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.
Soldiers plundering a village, from Jacques Callot, Les Miseres et les mal-heurs de la guerre (Paris, 1633). L.R.35.c.7.
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.
Gustav Adolf and Johann Georg (1750.b.29(7))
One broadside even shows the two leaders receiving the blessing of Luther himself.
Detail from Triga Heroum invictissimorum pro veritate Verbi Dei et Augustanæ Confessionis... 1750.b.29(20)
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.
Abriss der Fürnemsten Stät Festunge[n], undt päss in Teudschlandt welche I. M. König Gustaff Adolph zu Schweden ... eingenom[m]en. 1750.b.29.(17). 134 locations are depicted
A cruder version of this theme shows Gustav forcing the Pope to vomit up the towns he has ‘devoured’.
Augenscheinliche Abbildung der vornemsten Örter, Statt, und Flecken so in Jahrs frist auss der gefancknus und drangsal durch Gottes und der Gothemmacht erlediget worden. 1750.b.29.(67*)
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.
Kurtzer Bericht von Eroberung der curffürstlichen Statt München. 1750.b.29.(58)
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.
The Battle of Breitenfeld, detail from Eigentlicher Abriss der belägerten Stadt Leipzig, und der grossen Feldschlacht... 1750.b.29.(35-36)
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‘.
Peasants and their complaint. Detail from Des Tilly Confectt Panquet gehalten bey Leipzigk, den 7 Septemb: Anno 1631. 1750.b.29(30)
A handful of broadsides use the form of a rebus such as this satire on Tilly.
Des Tilly [Haus] 1750.b.29.(107)
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.
Wahre Contrafractur vnnd Bildnis, der hier auff Erden bedrengten, vnd in höchster Gefahr schwebenden, doch aber endlich erlöseten Christlichen vnd rechtglaubigen Kirchen 1750.b.29.(48).
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.
Die Stadt Magdeburg, wie sie jetzo nach der Eroberung beschaffen 1750.b.29.(73).
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.
Betrübte Klage eines Tyllischen Soldaten, 1750,c,29.(64)
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.
The dead Gustav Adolf with verses in praise of him. 1750.b.29.(13)
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
Signs of different times: French First World War posters
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.
Announcement for requisition of carrier pigeons in the Seine department, 1917. République française.
Commemoration of the transference of Rouget de l’Isle’s remains to the Hôtel des Invalides, Paris, 1915.
Regulations on the sale of alcohol and prohibition of absinthe, Paris, October 1914. Préfecture de police.
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.
Poster resembling the French flag advertising war bonds, Paris c. 1915, Compagnie des agents de change.
‘On les a’, ‘We’ve got them’. Poster for liberty bonds featuring French poilu, a Scottish highlander and an American soldier. London County & Westminster Bank (Paris), Firmin Bouisset, 1918.
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.
Poster for the charity ‘Reconstitution du foyer’, calling for donations of household furniture and objects. Paris, c. 1916.
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.
From the pamphlet ‘…et LA LUMIÈRE se fait…’ Law and justice versus the egotism and pride of Pangermanism. Paris, 1914-1918.
Anti-German poster detailing the atrocities committed by its government and armies arranged under nine headings. Paris 1915-1918.
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.
Poster advertising the serial La machine à finir la guerre. Henri Montassier, Paris Atelier Charles Didier, c. 1917.
Henrique Alvim-Corea’s artwork for H. G. Wells, La guerre des mondes, translated by Henry-D. Davray (Brussels, 1906). L.45/3317
Poster for L’Exportateur français, by Marc, Atelier Pichon, Imprimerie Joseph Charles, Paris, c. 1918.
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
Funding Victory: French posters from the end of the First World War
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.
‘Souscrivez à l’emprunt de la Libération’, Tab. 11748.a., Box 5, No. 319.
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.
‘Souscrivez pour la Victoire’, Tab. 11748.a., Box 3, No. 250.
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.
‘Souscrivez à l’emprunt à la Société centrale des banques de province’, Tab. 11748.a., Box 3, No 236.
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.
‘La Marseillaise’, Tab. 11748.a., Box 2, No. 241.
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.
‘Compagnie algérienne’, Tab. 11748.a., Box 6, No. 325.
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.
‘Emprunt de la Libération’, Tab. 11748.a., Box 5 No. 289.
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.
‘Emprunt de la Libération, Chambre des notaires de Beauvais’, Tab. 11748.a, Box 6, No. 286.
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
British Library contribution to Europeana 1914-1918
British Library World War One Learning Website
05 June 2018
Ernst Friedrich and his War against War
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.
Cover of Krieg dem Kriege ... (Berlin, 1930) Cup.719/390
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.’
A collection of war toys with an appeal to parents not to give them to children
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.
A wounded ex-soldier at work. The opposite page shows an aristocrat enjoying a post-war yachting holiday.
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.
An article from the Nazi newspaper Der Angriff celebrating the Anti-War Museum’s change of use, reproduced in Vom Friedens-Museum - zur Hitler-Kaserne
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.
Cover of Vom Friedens-Museum - zur Hitler-Kaserne
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 placement opportunity at the British Library: First World War French Posters
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.
Lucien Jonas, Debout: nos morts pour la patrie... Voici la France! 1914. Tab. 11748.a. Box 6 poster 314.
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.
The closing date for applications is 4pm on 19 February 2018. You can view the full project description here. and details of how to apply here.
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
Heroes and victims of the Revolution
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.
Below are four of the album’s ‘Heroes’: the Red Army soldier, Laundress, Motorist and Railway worker:
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
Hope, Tragedy, Myths - and Curation.
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.
Propaganda poster of Kozma Kriuchkov (Moscow, 1915) HS.74/273
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.
Anti-revolutionary cartoon from the German satirical magazine Simplicissimus, 19 Februiary 1918, LOU.F549
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.
The ultimate multi-tasking woman, detail from the wall newspaper The Yalta Female Delegate (1927) Add. MS 57556
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
Dmitrii Moor interrogates: Have *You* Bought Your Ticket?
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:
Moor’s poster for the lost black-and-white film Ubiitsa (The Murderer)
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:
‘Workers of the World Unite!’ Poster by Moor from the 193os. British Library 1899.c.12(22).
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!’
‘Wrangel is still alive! Finish him off without mercy!’ (left), as reproduced in the album Krasnaia Armiia (Moscow, 1938) designed by Alexander Rodchenko and Varvara Stepanova. Cup.1247.dd.20.
‘Be on Your Guard!’ (1920) Maps CC.6.a.38
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.
Dmitrii Moor, Azbuka krasnoarmeitsa (‘Alphabet for a Red Army Soldier’), 1921 (shelfmark Cup.401.g.25)
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.
Bezbozhnik u stanka (‘The Godless at the Workbench’; Moscow, 1923) P.P.8000.rs.
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.
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