29 December 2021
Paul van Ostaijen wrote his poetry collection Bezette Stad (‘Occupied City’), with art work by Jesper Oscar and René Victor, in 1921. It was published by Sienjaal, set in Antwerp and written in Berlin. The Great War is the topic, and stream of consciousness is the style. The original manuscript was recently bought by the Flemish government for €725,000, and has been made available online.
In honour of the centenary of this work, I have made a visual version of the brief information above, inspired by Ostaijen’s Dada-esque style, as well as offering a bibliography of works by and about Ostaijen from the British Library’s collections.
Paul van Ostaijen, Bezette Stad (Antwerp, 1921), Cup.503.p.5 (Online edition of the manuscript at https://consciencebibliotheek.be/nl/pagina/blader-digitaal-door-het-handschrift-%E2%80%98bezette-stad%E2%80%99-van-paul-van-ostaijen). English translation by David Colmer, Occupied City (Ripon, 2016). YK.2017.a.540
Paul van Ostaijen, De feesten van angst en pijn (Nijmegen, 2006) YF.2008.a.12964. English translation by Hidde Van Ameyden van Duym, Feasts of fear and agony, translated by Hidde Van Ameyden van Duym (New York, 1976). X.950/45770
Paul van Ostaijen, The first book of Schmoll: selected poems 1920-28, translated by Theo Hermans, James S. Holmes, and Peter Nijmeijer, ([Amsterdam], 1982) Cup.935/283
E.M. Beekman, Homeopathy of the absurd: the grotesque in Paul van Ostaijen’s creative prose. (The Hague, 1970), W19/5382
E.M. Beekman, Patriotism, Inc. and other tales ([Amherst], 1971), A71/5805
Gerrit Borgers, Paul van Ostaijen. (The Hague, 1971), X.909/24106.
Geert Buelens, Van Ostaijen tot heden. (Antwerp, 2001), YA.2002.a.37134
Frances Bulhof (ed.), Nijhoff, Van Ostaijen, “De Stijl” (The Hague, 1976), X:410/6582
Wright, Edward, Paul van Ostaijen, ([S.l., 196-?), YA.2003.b.2422
On the web:
On the fringes of Dada in Berlin (Blogpost)
Besmette Stad (A multimedia project inspired by Ostaijen’s work)
From Occupied City to Infected City (Blogpost)
Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections
09 August 2019
In May 1921 staff at the British Museum Library must have been rather surprised to receive a letter addressed to Sir Anthony Panizzi, the Museum’s famous 19th-century Principal Librarian, who had been dead for some 42 years. The letter was from Victor Patzovsky, a former officer in the Austrian army, who had been stationed at the Sigmundsherberg Prisoner of War camp in north-eastern Austria during the First World War, and it accompanied a parcel containing issues of newspapers produced by the Italian prisoners in the camp.
Such newspapers were produced in many internment and prisoner-of-war camps in the First and Second World Wars. They served various purposes: to communicate the latest news from the camp and the wider world, to publicise sporting and cultural societies and events organised by the prisoners, to alleviate boredom and frustration, to share experiences, memories and jokes, and to maintain a common cultural identity while in enemy captivity.
These things were particularly important in a camp like Sigmundsherberg where conditions were poor and prisoners particularly likely to succumb to the ‘barbed-wire disease’ that accompanied long, difficult and tedious incarceration. The camp had originally housed Russian prisoners, but after Italy entered the war against her former Austrian and German allies most of the Russians were moved out, and by the autumn of 1916 some 56,000 Italians were interned there. Since this was a far greater number than the camp had been built for, overcrowding was a constant problem, exacerbated by sickness, and shortages of food and fuel, creating miserable conditions for the prisoners.
In his letter Patzovsky writes of the prisoners’ ‘sad lot’ and says that he was ‘a real friend’ to them, enclosing testimonials from some of them to support this claim. He goes on to explain that he has now fallen on hard times himself, and is hoping to sell the newspapers to the Library to raise some money. He must have heard of Panizzi and, not realising that he was long dead, thought that an Italian-born librarian would have a particular interest in the newpapers and sympathy with a man who had tried to help Italians in distress. The letter was passed on to A.W. Pollard, one of Panizzi’s successors as Keeper of Printed Books, and a pencilled note on the first page, signed with Pollard’s initials, shows that the Library offered £2 for the collection. Clearly Patzovsky was content with this as the newspapers remain in the British Library today, although the testimonials were presumably returned to Patzovsky as he requested.
The run of newspapers is far from complete. As Patzovsky explains, ‘the few copies that were printed went from hand to hand among the thousands of Italians until the paper fell to pieces.’ The earliest in the collection is no. 3 of the weekly L’Eco del Prigioniero (‘The Prisoner’s Echo’), dated 21 January 1917. L’Eco del Prigioniero was reproduced from manuscript using a machine known as an opalograph and each issue has a different illustrated masthead.
The first editor was an A. Gori, but from no. 15 (6 May 1917) the role was taken over by Guido Monaldi. The content generally includes news and comment, essays poems and stories, and reports of camp activities, while a monthly supplement, L’Eco Umoristico/L’Eco Caricaturista, is devoted to jokes and cartoons.
In August 1917 L’Eco del Prigioniero became La Scintilla (‘The Spark’), but Monaldi remained as editor, the content was much the same, and there was still a humorous supplement, La Scintilla Caricaturista. Initially the same form of reproduction from manuscript was also used, but the difficulty of obtaining the chemicals needed for the process and the low quality of the available supplies made it impossible to keep up with the demand for copies and to maintain the quality of the reproduction.
By the beginning of November Monaldi and his team had succeeded in acquiring a proper printing press, and the remaining issues are all printed, losing somewhat in visual charm and variety but gaining greatly in legibility. A new and permanent masthead image soon appeared, with the image of a goddess-like figure striking sparks.
Somewhat confusingly, the series numeration restarts at 1 from the first printed issue; the last issue which we hold is no. 15 in this numeration (7 April 1918), although La Scintilla is recorded as having run until August 1918.
Incomplete as our holdings are, we must be grateful to Patzovsky for offering them to the Library and to Pollard for being willing to buy them from him.
Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections
Rudolf Koch, Im Hinterhof des Krieges: das Kriegsgefangenenlager Sigmundsherberg (Klosterneuburg, 2002) YA.2003.a.43771
14 November 2018
The Serbian community in Britain recently commemorated the 60th anniversary of the death of Louise, Lady Paget and celebrated her life and her work for Serbia.
Lady Paget (1881-1958) is known for her humanitarian and hospital work in the Balkans during the First World War. Among the Serbs, she is remembered as a best friend in need.
She arrived in Belgrade in 1910 with her husband Sir Ralph Paget who served there as British Minister to Serbia. Her early hospital work in this country began during the Balkan Wars (1912-13). While in Serbia, Lady Paget’s humanitarian engagement was closely associated with a Serbian national charitable organisation called the League of Serbian Women (Kolo srpskih sestara).
At the beginning of the First World War Lady Paget was among a group of Balkan experts and Serbian friends in London, who founded a charity for wounded and sick people in Serbia, named the Serbian Relief Fund. She was soon put in charge of the first Serbian Relief Fund’s hospital, which arrived in Skopje in November 1914.
The hospital workload during the first two months was extremely demanding and challenging. The epidemic of typhus, which spread rapidly throughout the country like wildfire, was to assume serious proportions in the Serbian Relief Fund’s hospital in Skopje too. In Serbia half a million people suffered from this epidemic and over 100,000 died from infectious diseases.
To fight typhus, Lady Paget’s hospital arranged a group of buildings known as the Typhus Colony in Skopje. This were soon to become – thanks to its organisation, knowledgeable staff and efficient scheme for isolating patients – a model fever hospital for the whole of the country, despite difficult general conditions in Skopje.
Lady Paget and other members of the staff went down with typhus themselves but, despite all the hardships and dangers, the Serbian Relief Fund’s hospital in Skopje held the proud record of not having lost a single member of its British staff, all of whom were nursed back to health at the Typhus Colony in Skopje.
At the time of Lady Paget’s departure from Skopje in 1915 a Serbian tribute appeared in a local paper which read: “The members of Lady Paget’s mission have left with us the happiest memories. Our thanks and our gratitude for their work of devotion can have no limits, for they have done far, far more than we could ever have dared to ask or to expect. The Serbian race will never have words enough to express its gratitude to these members of a nation, the humanity of which has always been a tradition.”
After the First World War Lady Paget led a quiet life with her husband in Kent before moving to Warren House, her late father’s mansion at Kingston Hill, Kingston upon Thames. During the Second World War she had Warren House turned into a convalescent home for wounded soldiers who were treated at the Kingston Hospital.
Warren House also became a friendly meeting place for Serbian exiles during and after the Second World War. The number of Serbian displaced persons and refugees in Britain in 1948 amounted to about 10,000 people. These were mostly former prisoners of war and students. Lady Paget supported a large number of Serbian students both in Britain and abroad. According to a contemporary Serbian account she spent a fortune on their education.
Irinej Djordjević, Bishop of Dalmatia and former president of the Society of Great Britain and America in Yugoslavia, was among the first post-war refugees whom Lady Paget brought to London to support the mission of the Serbian church in Britain.
Next to the Yugoslav King Peter II and his mother Queen Mary, Lady Paget was one of the greatest benefactors of the Serbian Church of St Sava in London.
At the dedication service on the occasion of the opening of the Serbian Church of St. Sava in London on 29 June 1952. Lady Paget and Professor Slobodan Jovanović, the prime minister of the Royal Yugoslav Government in exile in London 1942-43. From Spomenica Ledi Pedžet.
After the First World War generations in Serbia venerated the name of Lady Paget and a street in Belgrade was named after her. A generation that lost their country in the Second World War created a lasting tribute in Spomenica Ledi Pedžet (‘The Memorial to Lady Paget’) published after her death. One of the testimonies published in the Memorial summed up the life of Lady Paget in one sentence: “For her, everything was about work, but her work was in the shadows.”
Milan Grba, Lead Curator South-East European Collections
28 September 2018
On Saturday 27 October, the British Library will be hosting a study day, 1918: A New Europe on Film, that will look at 1918 and the end of the First World War from the perspective of those nations that were founded as a consequence.
Borders were redrawn and nations once part of larger entities were given a chance to determine their own course. Those borders were not necessarily natural, however, and the new geographies inspired new sets of problems. For some nations, this independence was short-lived and that precarity lives on today for many of these same nations.
1918: A New Europe on Film brings to light the many cinematic representations of this formative period and will show how film, documentary and television constructed and were constructed by an ever-shifting concept of national identity over a turbulent century. 1918 features as a key subject in every period and genre of film-making. It resurfaces as a paradigm for the now, a figure for great transformation, for endings, revolutions and new beginnings, and it often serves to express and comment on contemporary situations that could not bear direct representation.
An exciting programme includes expert speakers discussing Turkey, Latvia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Ukraine and Finland, covering archival footage, documentary, feature film and television across the century. Each presentation will be illustrated by film extracts, some of this material being shown for the first time, following very recent research. Film critic, programmer and expert in Czech and Eastern European Cinema, Peter Hames will introduce the study day.
The day has been organised in collaboration with Professor Dina Iordanova, University of St Andrews, and Professor Ewa Mazierska, University of Central Lancashire, with the cooperation of Yunus Emre Enstitüsü, The Finnish Institute in London, The British Croatian Society, The Romanian Cultural Institute in London and The Embassy of Latvia. For details of how to book see: https://www.bl.uk/events/1918-a-new-europe-on-film
The study day forms part of a wider programme of events, entitled 1918: A New World?, aimed at approaching the 1918 centenary from alternative perspectives. Do join us in rethinking the century!
24 September 2018
We have recently added a new book to our Italian Futurist collection. Guerrapittura is an important example of the synergy of text and graphics in Italian Futurist books. Some other acquisitions were made for the exhibition Breaking the Rules. The Printed Face of the European Avant Garde 1900-1937 in 2008, and our collections are constantly growing.
The Italian painter Carlo Carra’ wrote Guerrapittura (‘War-painting’) in 1915, when the First World War had started but Italy had not yet entered the conflict. His words are an important contribution to the interventismo (interventionism), where artists and intellectuals played a huge role in lobbying the public opinion to enter the War.
Guerrapittura is Carra’s last contribution to the Futurist movement. From 1917 he joined the painter Giorgio De Chirico on his conception of pittura metafisica. His patriotic views are expressed quite strongly in Guerrapittura, the war being an ‘incentive to creativity’ and a way to celebrate the ‘Italian creative genius’. The War is seen as the climax of the futurist way of thinking, an encounter between art and life, the last step towards an industrialized world. Literature and painting meet in the book, which features the iconic leaflet ‘Sintesi futurista della guerra’, authored on 29 September 1914 by Carra’, together with Marinetti, Boccioni, Piatti and Russolo. The ‘words in freedom’ in the leaflet celebrate FUTURISM vs TRADITIONALISM. Futurism is represented by Russia, France, Belgium, Serbia, Italy, Japan, Montenegro, Great Britain, against the traditionalism of Germany and Austria.
The violence and ugliness of war are ignored in his words and in those of his fellow futurists, like in the magazine Lacerba, whose intolerant and anti-democratic views mirror those of Carra’ in Guerrapittura. Lacerba’s short life was linked to the interventismo from 1913-1915 and its reason to exist ceased when the war started. The last issue of Lacerba, dated 1915, celebrates Italy entering the War.
The acquisition of Guerrapittura has been made possible by the Mirella De Sanctis special fund for the purchase of Italian books.
Valentina Mirabella, Curator, Romance Collections
Breaking the Rules: the Printed Face of the European Avant Garde, 1900-1937 (London, 2007) YC.2008.b.251.
Mirella Bentivoglio ‘Innovative Artist’s Books of Italian Futurism’ in International Futurism in Arts and Literature, edited by Günter Berghaus (Berlin, 2000), pp. 473-486. YA.2002.a.8247.
Futurismo & Futurismi (Milan, 1986) YV.1986.b.694. [English edition (London, 1986) at YV.1987.b.2043.]
24 August 2018
Pavlo Skoropadskyi died on 26 April 1945 from wounds sustained during a US Airforce bombardment of Plattling Railway Station in Bavaria. His funeral took place in the small town of Metten against a backdrop of exploding bombs and whistling bullets. Only his daughter Elizabeth was present, who carried a cross before her father’s coffin, although badly wounded herself. The funeral was conducted by a Ukrainian Greek Catholic priest who happened to be in Metten at the time. When he discovered the identity of the deceased, he said that it was a great honour for him to perform this last service for such a distinguished person. It was in these circumstances that the last Hetman of Ukraine, Pavlo Skoropadskyi, ended his time on earth.
Pavlo Skoropadskyi in 1918 (Photograph from Wikimedia Commons)
Pavlo Petrovych Skoropadskyi was a Ukrainian political and military statesman, and Hetman of the Ukrainian State – the official name of Ukraine during the period of his leadership – in 1918. Born in 1873, he was descended from an ancient line of Ukrainian Cossacks and nobility. This probably influenced him most in deciding his future path after the fall of the Russian Empire in 1917. Prior to the February Revolution, he had enjoyed a glittering military career as one of the most respected, talented and decorated military commanders of the Russian Empire, a hero of the Russo-Japanese and First World Wars, an adjutant to Tsar Nicholas II and one of the Imperial Family’s few close confidants. In the lead-up to 1917 he was a Lieutenant-General of the Russian Army. In 1898 he married Oleksandra Durnovo, herself a descendant of the noble Kochubeyi family, and the marriage produced six children.
After Nicholas II’s abdication in March 1917 and the Bolshevik coup in St Petersburg in October 1917, Skoropadskyi faced a choice about whom and which path to follow. In his memoirs, written in 1919 after he had emigrated, he explained, “I followed the path which was closest to my heart. That path led to Ukraine.” Understanding the inevitability of Soviet aggression against the Ukrainian National Republic, which had been declared in November 1917, Skoropadskyi recognised the authority of the Central Rada even though he did not share its leaders’ socialist views. The military corps under his command blocked Bolshevik troops from advancing on Kyiv. As a result, not only did he save the city from occupation and devastation, but also Ukrainian statehood itself, which was still young and faltering.
However, because of his opposition to the politics of the Central Rada, he tendered his resignation at the end of December 1917 and soon afterwards was one of several initiators of a movement to unite right-wing forces to replace the government. He found significant support from landowners and leaders of the German and Austrian armies, who were in Ukraine under the terms of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. With the support of his associates and approval of strong allies, he hoped to develop Ukraine into a modern European country.
On 29 April 1918 at the All-Ukrainian Agricultural Conference in Kyiv, Skoropadskyi was proclaimed Hetman of Ukraine. He led the renamed Ukrainian State for seven and a half months, coming to power during a period of chaos, disunity and internal and external instability. Skoropadskyi and his government sought to rebuild the state. Compared to the destructive processes taking place in war-torn Soviet Russia, Ukraine followed a path of constructive nation-building, aimed at developing all spheres of economic, social and cultural life.
Skoropadskyi’s rule was not without controversy, however, and he faced opposition from a range of political and social groups. Although his objective was to include the widest possible spectrum of Ukrainian political thought in government, he was unable to reach a compromise with the socialist parties, who refused to serve under a hetmanate system, and his ministers were primarily conservative and liberal representatives. His highest priority was to form a strong and capable government and a professional administrative apparatus and for the period of its existence, the Hetmanate had some significant successes. Around 500 new laws were enacted, including legislation for a national currency, a national Senate, local self-government, the army, and reform of the agrarian system. The most noteworthy successes were in the spheres of culture and education, as the key drivers of national rebirth. The legacy of the Ukrainian State included the founding of 150 Ukrainian high schools, two Ukrainian universities in Kyiv and Kamyanets-Podilsk, and the Ukrainian Academy of Science. The National Library, National Archive, and National Theatre were also established during this period.
Pavlo Skoropadskyi as Hetman of Ukraine. Kyiv, 1918. (Reproduced by kind permission of the Central State Archives of Supreme Bodies of Power and Government of Ukraine)
Furthermore, the Ukrainian State made important foreign policy achievements. During its existence, Ukraine established 11 diplomatic and almost 50 consular missions in 20 countries, while in Ukraine itself there were 12 diplomatic and 42 consular missions from 24 countries.
The positive changes which took place during the period of the Ukrainian State showed that, like Finland and Poland, Ukraine had a realistic opportunity of becoming a modern European nation.
On 14 November 1918, under pressure from complex geopolitical and internal circumstances, Skoropadskyi made a declaration about Ukraine entering into a federation with a future non-Bolshevik Russia. He believed that this was the only way to save Ukraine from Soviet Russia’s colonial ambitions. Following an anti-Hetmanate uprising, he resigned his post on 14 December 1918 and left Ukraine.
Skoropadskyi lived as an émigré in Germany, where he established the Ukrainian Scientific Institute and was the leader of the Hetman (Monarchist) movement in Western Europe, the USA and Canada. In 1937 he became leader of the Association of Hetmanate Statesmen, whose activity was aimed at renewing an independent Ukrainian State.
Cover of The Investigator (London, 1932-1934) P.P.3610.fac., a periodical promoting the Hetmanate movement. An explanation on the verso of the title page reads: “The ‘Investigator’ is the sole organisation in England working in conjunction with, and with the authority of, the Hetman of the Ukraine, Paul Skoropadsky, and has no connection with any other body”.
Although a controversial figure to some, Pavlo Skoropadskyi remained to the end of his life a staunch Ukrainian patriot with an unshakeable faith in a better future for Ukraine. In the history of Ukraine’s path to statehood, he can be seen as one of its most prominent 20th-century leaders.
Tetyana Ralduhina, Historian, Chief Researcher of the period of the Ukrainian Revolution of 1917-1921, Kyiv
Pavlo Skoropadskyĭ, Spohady: kinets’ 1917 – hruden’ 1918 (Kyïv, 1995). YA.1997.b.7557
Iaroslav Lebedynsky, Skoropadsky et l’édification de l’État ukrainien (Paris, 2010). YF.2011.a.8342
R. Mlynovetskyĭ, Narysy z istoriï ukraïnsʹkykh vyzvolʹnykh zmahanʹ, 1917-1918 rr. (Toronto, 1970-1973). YA.1987.a.13800
G. V. Papakin, Pavlo Skoropadsʹkyĭ: patriot, derzhavotvoretsʹ, liudyna: istoryko-arkhivni narysy (Kyïv, 2003). YF.2006.a.16124
G.V. Papakin, Arkhiv Skoropads'kykh (Kyiv, 2004). YF.2006.a.16106
Oleksandr Reient, Pavlo Skoropadsʹkyĭ (Kyïv, 2003). YA.2003.a.39678
Hetʹmanat Pavla Skoropadsʹkoho – istoriia, postati, kontroversiï: vseukraïnsʹka naukova konferentsiia, 19-20 travnia 2008 r. (Kyïv, 2008). YF.2009.a.30088
Ostannyĭ hetʹman: ivileĭnyĭ zbirnyk pam'ia︡ti Pavla Skoropadsʹkoho, 1873-1945, edited by Olena Ott-Skoropadsʹka (Kyïv, 1993). YA.1998.a.5532
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
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