Les Murailles politiques françaises (1870-71): French and German posters from the Franco-Prussian war and the Commune

Last year I catalogued a few dusty old French books found in the University Library tower. Among them was an interesting four-flap folder containing Les affiches de la Commune : Paris – Versailles – La province, du 18 mars au 27 mai 1871, a collection of poster facsimiles published in 1874, just a few years after their production (now at 8001.b.205). I discovered that this item was the second part of a series entitled Les Murailles politiques françaises, depuis le 18 juillet 1870 jusqu’au 25 mai 1871. Affiches françaises et allemandes. Part 1, published in 1873 was La Guerre, La Commune – Paris, Province. Part 3, published in 1875, was Les Murailles d’Alsace-Lorraine: Metz, Sarreguemines, Strasbourg, Haguenau, Saverne, Nancy, etc.‎ Cambridge University Library did not have these two other volumes of the set, but did hold two closely related publications.

Les murailles politiques françaises, 8500.b.14

The first is a 2-volume set published around the same time in 1873-74, entitled Les murailles politiques françaises [t.1] Depuis le 4 septembre 1870 — [t.2.] Depuis août 1870 jusqu’en mai 1873 (8500.b.14-15), which covers a wider time frame. The second is Les murailles d’Alsace-Lorraine, depuis la déclaration de guerre jusqu’en octobre 1873 : Metz, Strasbourg, Longwy, Haguenau, Nancy, etc., published in 1874 (8500.b.79), which focuses on the eastern parts of France and overlaps with the third volume of the 3-part set.

The Murailles politiques françaises is a collection of facsimile reproductions of tracts and posters produced during the Siege of Paris and the Commune. As indicated by their name, many were pasted in the streets on the ‘walls’ of Paris. These posters were produced, together with other types of ephemeral documents such as caricatures and satirical prints, in the context of an active political and propaganda literature. Many of them promoted the Republic and called for resistance against the Germans. They emanated from the government (préfecture de police, ministère de l’intérieur, ministère de l’agriculture et du commerce, fédération républicaine de la garde nationale…), political groups (Comité libéral républicain, Comité républicain démocratique progressiste…) and commercial or civil societies (Société de prévoyance, theatres…). Official notices and public announcements (advertising talks and conferences) alternate with electoral lists (for elections to the Assemblée nationale, from Republican to Monarchist candidates, such as the Duc d’Aumale) and appeals to the people of Paris (for fundraising).  

Les murailles politiques françaises, 8500.b.14

All these publications, circulating closely related poster material, were produced by the same Paris publisher and bookseller, Armand Le Chevalier, established at 61 rue Richelieu, near the Palais Royal on the right bank of the Seine, and by Lucien Le Chevalier in the case of the 3-part set. They held left-wing, republican/revolutionary opinions, publishing and selling (illustrated) books, pamphlets, maps and atlases, such as:

  • Physionomies parisiennes. Le journal et le journaliste  / par Edmond Texier ; dessins par Bertall. Paris, A. Le Chevalier, 1868. 8000.c.816(1)  
  • Histoire de la Révolution de 1848 par Daniel Stern, 80 livraisons, 80 gravures… illustrée par MM. de Neuville, Gerlier, Crepon… Paris, Bureaux de vente : A. Le Chevalier, éditeur, [1869]
  • Nouvelles chansons politiques de Paul Avenel. Paris : Armand Le Chevalier, éditeur, 1870. Gallica
  • Défense de Metz et la lutte à outrance / Rossel, capitaine du génie. Paris, Armand le chevalier, libraire-éditeur, 1871.
  • L’Association internationale des travailleurs (Origines ; Paris, Londres, Genève, Lausanne, Bruxelles, Berne, Bâle ; Notes et pièces à l’appui) / E. E. Fribourg, l’un des fondateurs. Paris, Armand Le Chevalier, éditeur, 1871.
  • La Commune 1871: le coup d’état du 18 mars : Paris et Versailles, du 18 mars au 22 mai; la bataille; les fusillades; l’incendie / Lucien Le Chevalier. Paris : A. Le Chevalier, 1871. Acton.d.26.1419  
  • Nos contemporains ; portraits à la plume par Ferragus [Louis Ulbach]. Paris : A. Le Chevalier, 1871 (which included (satirical) portraits of Napoléon III, the Duc d’Aumale, Victor Hugo, Haussmann, Pie IX, Bismarck etc.)
  • De Paris à Cayenne : journal d’un transporté / par Ch. Delescluze. Paris, A. Le Chevalier, éditeur, 1872. (Delescluze was French revolutionary leader, journalist and founder of the political newspaper Le Réveil, and military commander of the Paris Commune who died on the barricades during the Semaine sanglante). XXVII.120.46  

Armand le Chevalier was one of the founders of the weekly magazine L’illustration (situated next door at 60 rue Richelieu), and published in 1868-69 the anti-imperial weekly newspaper La Cloche, also written by Ferragus (Louis Ulbach), and managed by Lucien le Chevalier.

Les murailles politiques françaises, 8500.b.14 (foreword)

The collection and publication of the Affiches and Murailles, just a few years after the events, demonstrates the editors’ consciousness of the political and historical importance of these ephemeral documents and their own political engagement. They bear witness to the active role of informed individuals keen on preserving these documents for the wider public and for posterity, though in the foreword, the identity of the collector is not disclosed.  

“Rien de ce qui peut apporter la lumière dans l’Histoire ne doit être négligé. Les affiches sont l’histoire écrite pour tous, au jour le jour, dans les rues, sur les murailles. Elles sont l’expression la plus vraie, vivante en quelque sorte, des faits… Un ardent collectionneur a mis à notre disposition la précieuse collection, collection sans lacunes, qu’il a commencée dès cette époque” (Armand le Chevalier’s editorial foreword to the Murailles)

The unexpected addition of the Murailles to Cambridge University Library collections came in a timely fashion, on the 150th anniversary of the Franco-Prussian war. It also piqued our interest from the perspective of a research project on a set of six large volumes of 1870-71 caricatures (KF.3.9-14). These have just been fully digitised by Cambridge Digital Content Unit, following the COVID lockdown.

Irène Fabry-Tehranchi

Some digitised posters of the war of 1870-71 and the Commune of Paris are available online through the Archives of the Hauts-de-Seine département.

1 thought on “Les Murailles politiques françaises (1870-71): French and German posters from the Franco-Prussian war and the Commune

  1. Many thanks for another great blog on 1870-71, Irene. “Les affiches sont l’histoire écrite pour tous, au jour le jour, dans les rues, sur les murailles.” What a great quotation.

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