Now Open: "'Never such innocence again': Picturing the Great War in French Prints and Drawings"

March 17, 2014


Modern Realities: Artists Document The Great War in France

at the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers


New Brunswick, NJ – This year marks the centennial of the beginning of World War One, a military conflict on a previously unseen scale that raged across Europe for four years. The new exhibition “‘Never such innocence again’: Picturing the Great War in French Prints and Drawings,” on view at the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers through July 31, explores the artistic response to the First World War in France, documenting the destruction in one of the countries where many key battles occurred.

“French artists reacted immediately and passionately to the devastating impact on their homeland, which included the changing nature of warfare, as well as its political and social aspects,” notes Christine Giviskos, the Zimmerli’s Associate Curator of European Art, who organized the exhibition from the museum’s rich holdings of French graphic arts. “And they sustained their efforts throughout the four years, emphasizing the humanity behind wartime’s new – and brutal – realities.”

Several of the featured artists established their careers during the 1880s and 1890s, regularly portraying the novelties of contemporary life, as well as biting political and social commentary. In particular, Hermann-Paul and Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen are best known for capturing Parisian society and popular – often bourgeois – culture. But when The Great War (as it was known until World War Two) began after decades of relative peace in Europe, artists readily adapted to depicting the horrors of war in a journalistic way. Focusing on the human cost, they utilized both allegorical and brutally realistic depictions of soldiers, refugees, military leaders, and theaters of war. 

The 1915 series "Les 4 Saisons de la Kultur (The 4 Seasons of Culture)" by Hermann-Paul documents the early stages of the war as German soldiers advanced through neutral Belgium to invade Paris. Each woodcut represents one of the four seasons, showing the broad range of atrocities that soldiers committed against citizens and their homesteads. Even the artist’s choice of the word “culture” serves as commentary about the stark contrast between Germany’s rich artistic history and its contemporary infamy as a destructive force.

A seemingly infinite group of refugees trudge en masse in Steinlen’s 1915 lithograph “L’Exode (The Exodus).” Though the work is more of a quick sketch, he makes the subjects’ sadness, exhaustion, and uncertainty apparent in their hollow eyes and by the sacks that carry the few belongings with which they could escape. Steinlen also contributed designs to promote the efforts of relief groups. His poster “En Belgique les Belges ont faim (In Belgium, the Belgians are starving),” from 1915, advertises a raffle that raised money to provide food for the starving civilians. Again, he evokes their distress; in this instance, directly calling viewers to action.

Raoul Dufy also transitioned from an established creative career, choosing to design patriotic posters and prints. He had painted among the Fauves (French for “wild beasts”), which included Henri Matisse and officially existed as a movement from 1904 to 1908, known for vibrant colors and energetic brushstrokes. During the Great War, however, Dufy worked for the French government’s bureau of propaganda. His woodcut print “Les Nations Alliées pour la Triomphe du Droit et de la Liberté (The Allied Nations for the Triumph of Truth and Liberty),” circa 1915, promotes the cause of the Allied powers. The nine soldiers – each in his country’s uniform – bear their respective flags, which overlap to forge a single, united front. Dufy also incorporated the iconic “images d’Epinal,” the naïve style of French prints that were popular a century before and evoked a sense of nationalism.

World War One remains unprecedented in its extensive mobilization of troops and brutality of the conflict, due in part to such then-new technologies as machine guns, poison gas, and trench warfare. The ongoing devastation resulting from these “advances” is evident in the title “Never such innocence again,” which is the final, poignant line from Philip Larkin's poem "MCMXIV." Though not written until the early 1960s, his commemoration demonstrates how the impact of the war was felt long after the armistice in 1918. The children – and even the grandchildren – of those who experienced The Great War grew up with an understanding that it was not simply a lesson in a history book. The war was a real event that drastically altered people’s attitudes and ways of living during a period of four short years.

This exhibition was organized by Christine Giviskos, Associate Curator of European Art.


The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum houses more than 60,000 works of art, ranging from ancient to contemporary art. The permanent collection features particularly rich holdings in nineteenth-century French art; Russian art from icons to the avant-garde; Soviet nonconformist art from the Dodge Collection; and American art with notable holdings of prints. In addition, small groups of antiquities, old master paintings, as well as art inspired by Japan and original illustrations for children’s books, provide representative examples of the museum’s research and teaching message at Rutgers. One of the largest and most distinguished university-based art museums in the nation, the Zimmerli is located on the New Brunswick campus of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. Established in 1766, Rutgers is America’s eighth oldest institution of higher learning and a premier public research university.


The Zimmerli’s operations, exhibitions, and programs are funded in part by Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, and income from the Avenir Foundation Endowment, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Endowment, and the Voorhees Family Endowment, among others. Additional support comes from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, a partner agency of the National Endowment for the Arts; the Estate of Victoria J. Mastrobuono; and donors, members, and friends of the museum.


The Zimmerli Art Museum is located at 71 Hamilton Street at George Street on the College Avenue campus of Rutgers University in New Brunswick. The Zimmerli is a short walk from the NJ Transit train station in New Brunswick, midway between New York City and Philadelphia.


Hours are Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m., and the first Wednesday of each month (except August), 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. The museum is closed Mondays, major holidays, and the month of August.

Z Café featuring the Food Architects is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with a variety of breakfast, lunch, and snack items.


Admission is $6 for adults; $5 for 65 and over; and free for museum members, children under 18, and Rutgers students, faculty, and staff (with ID). Admission is free on the first Sunday of every month. For more information, call 848.932.7237 or visit the museum’s website:


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