Sylvester Fine Art

The Beautiful Call to Arms

“On les aura!” “Vive la Nation!” “Pour hâter la paix par la victoire”: it was these battle cries, used on the French propaganda posters, that stirred a nation into action.   Although it has been 100 years since the beginning of the Great War, these posters are as gripping today as the day they were printed.

The use of posters as a vehicle for communication became popular in the late 19th century with France blazing a trail, thanks to new printing technologies. Lithography enabled artists to move beyond the small, single-colour images of the past. In a time without television and radio, the poster became the most efficient means of mass communication and during the war, it was done on a national scale.

Artists such as SEM, Faivre and Steinlen were among a host of leading artists of the day who were to become the nation’s ‘secret weapons’ as their incredible skill and graphic artistry were put to task in swaying the French population toward the cause.

Symbolism was used throughout this art form; although less harsh than other nations, France would depict Germany as an embattled or vanquished eagle, often being defeated at the hands of the Gallic cock or rooster, which was the traditional symbol of French courage and aggressiveness.

Marianne, France’s brazen symbol of victory, was also widely used to urge her people to do their patriotic duty and defend their country be it volunteering to serve, buying a war bond or conserving or growing food. Whatever the message, it was the propaganda poster that was used to deliver it quickly and effectively.

The original lithographic posters are now quite rare; not only are they 100 years old, they would have been posted directly onto bill boards around France, making their survival even more extraordinary.

From 10 September at Sylvester Fine Art, 64 Belsize Lane, London NW3 5BJ

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