Surrealism in Egypt

A couple of weeks ago I heard a piece on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row (still available here) about an exhibition at Tate Liverpool, on until March next year, which highlights the surrealist movement in Egypt and the associated Art et Liberté group.

Our copy of the related exhibition catalogue is in French (Art et Liberté: rupture, guerre et surréalisme en Égypte (1938-1948)S950.a.201.5158) as the exhibition started off last year at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. This major exhibition took six years to bring together and features 130 artworks by 37 painters, along with 200 archival documents. By August next year it will have been seen in five different locations: Paris, Madrid, Düsseldorf, Liverpool and Stockholm. The exhibition catalogue has been produced in five languages, French, Spanish, German, English and Arabic, but not Swedish (I think Stockholm was perhaps a later addition to the tour as it is not included in the itinerary given in the catalogue). Continue reading

Lyon dans les chaînes, or how to illustrate suffering beautifully

Lyon_chaines_plate4

Liberation.a.60

Lyon dans les chaînes (Liberation.a.60) is a wonderfully illustrated account of the occupation and liberation of the city of Lyon by journalist Pierre Scize. This large volume, held at Cambridge University Library as part of the Chadwyck-Healey Liberation Collection, has an extensive number of coloured lithographs “printed under the surveillance of the artist”, Julien Pavil. The 625 copies of the work were produced between 15 December 1944 and 29 June 1945, which tells us a great deal about the effort and dedication the French were willing to put into book publishing after the Liberation. Continue reading

Radio broadcasting and the war

“La chanson des V”. Beethoven’s famous 5th symphonie start was the signature tune for the BBC programme “Les Français parlent aux français”. The rythm of its first four notes equals the letter “V” (for Victory) in morse code. Liberation.b.34

The powerful role of radio propaganda during World War II cannot be overestimated. Information was transmitted quickly to vast populations across borders, overpassing enemy lines. In the UK, the BBC would broadcast in several languages, including French of course, and would even send secret messages to the French Resistance in the form of apparently senseless phrases. The Chadwyck-Healey Liberation Collection has several publications related to this topic, some of them particularly fascinating.

Maurice Van Moppès was an illustrator, Free France member and broadcaster who worked for “Les Français parlent aux français”, one of the BBC radio programmes that transmitted news from the Front (for more on this check the 5 volumes of Ici Londres, 1940-1944: les voix de la liberté, 539:1.b.820.2-6). The programme was also supposed to boost the French people’s morale and send code messages to the Résistance. Continue reading

Arte: the European television channel (?)

Arte_Logo_2017.svgIf you asked me what the best channel on French television is, I would probably reply without much hesitation: Arte. But if you asked a German person what the best channel on German television is, it is quite plausible that they would also reply: Arte. “How is this possible?” you, the Briton, may well ask. Well, it all comes down to France’s and Germany’s approach to the European Union – an approach quite different from the rather radical one favoured by the United Kingdom.

At the end of the 1980s, the Eastern Bloc was breaking into a multitude of independent countries, a reunification between East and West Germany seemed more and more likely, and France and Germany were trying to show strong unity in the construction of the European Union to counter Margaret Thatcher’s opposition. It was in this context that, in 1988, German chancellor Helmut Kohl and French president François Mitterrand, both ardent believers in the European project, met at the 52nd Franco-German summit where they decided to create a television channel funded in equal proportion by the two states, and with the ambition of becoming a proper European project. Continue reading

Constantin Joffé: the fate of a prisoner-of-war

Liberation.c.930

Liberation.c.930

One of the most striking aspects of the Liberation Collection is the huge number of books consisting of personal narratives, containing the memories of people involved in and affected by World War II. Through dealing with these books one becomes very intrigued by and connected with their authors, their experiences and their suffering. Instances of personal narratives in the Liberation Collection vary widely, in terms of the backgrounds to which the authors belonged, in terms of the topics they choose to address or the quality of the publications themselves. But they all share a deeply human and personal view of the tragic conflict. Here is one example. Continue reading