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

Feb 08, 2014 - Jul 31, 2014
Volpe Gallery

The Great War, as it was known until World War II, began in July 1914 after decades of relative peace in Europe. France suffered early, as German troops invaded from the north through Belgium in August 1914. Although Germany expected a quick victory, the war lasted four years, ending in 1918 with a loss of life unprecedented in military conflict, a result of the massive mobilization of troops and the use of such new deadly weapons as poison gas and machine guns. France alone lost nearly two million soldiers, or roughly ten percent of its male population. Philip Larkin’s 1964 poem “MCMXIV,” which contemplates the momentous changes wrought by the First World War, concluded with the poignant line “Never such innocence again” and provides a fitting epigraph for what is conveyed in the works in this display.

Commemorating the one hundredth anniversary of the war’s outbreak, this exhibition of French prints and drawings captures military, political, and social aspects of the Great War. Selected from the Zimmerli Art Museum’s rich holdings of French graphic arts, the works on view demonstrate the immediate and passionate response of French artists to depicting wartime’s new and often brutal realities. Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen, Hermann-Paul, Auguste Lepère, and other featured artists established their careers during the 1880s and 1890s, regularly contributing works to illustrated journals that depicted contemporary life and popular entertainments and commented on politics and society. During the Great War, these artists focused on the colossal human cost and made the experience of the soldiers and refugees displaced by the conflict the primary subjects of their works. They also created imagery vilifying the German enemy, a manifestation of patriotism that had deep roots in France’s humiliating defeat in the Franco-Prussian War (1870–71). Ranging from propaganda posters to limited-edition print series, the works on view capture the serious and challenging effects of the war in France, as well as the radical shift in what was considered appropriate to the artistic depiction of modern life.

Organized by Christine Giviskos, Associate Curator of European Art

René Georges Hermann-Paul

Les 4 Saisons de la Kulture:  Kultur en Hiver, 1915

Stencil-colored woodcut

Collection Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers

Class of 1944 Fund