Rich and ravenous: caricatures of the siege of Paris by the Prussians (September 1870 – January 1871)

In a previous blog post, we talked about series of caricatures held in Cambridge University Library and other collections (such as Heidelberg University Library) depicting food shortages during the 1870-1871 siege of Paris. The Parisian diet was considerably and disturbingly altered and extended during this time, as people resorted to eating rats, cats, dogs, and horses. The current lockdown, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, with obvious economic consequences, is predicted to increase social inequalities, despite government measures such as the furlough scheme or the extension of free school meals vouchers over the summer holidays. Did the siege of Paris level or increase social differences, and how were they perceived by contemporary caricaturists? Satirical prints specifically targeted the way privileged classes coped with the situation of penury and food shortages. The relative suffering of the wealthy, bourgeois or aristocrats, is treated humourously in many of the caricatures produced at the time. They stress the fact that, though they also experienced rationing, hardship and privations, certain categories of the population did manage to avoid starvation and, as restaurants were open, were still able to enjoy behaviours of their previous life.


Heidelberg UL, vol. 2 p. 121 and 175 ; Cambridge UL, KF.3.10

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Eating cats and dogs during a lockdown: caricatures of besieged Paris (September 1870 – January 1871)

150 years ago, in the midst of the Franco-Prussian war and the Commune, the besieged population of Paris experienced situations of lockdown and hardship which to some extent resonate with the confinement we have been through recently. During the COVID-19 outbreak, our confinement may have altered some of our eating habits and consumption, but despite initial panic buying, UK supermarkets have still been stocked and food has been plentiful, whereas the circulation of people, goods and provisions to and from besieged Paris was completely impeded.


Collection de caricatures et de charges pour servir à l’histoire de la guerre et de la révolution de 1870-1871. Heidelberg UL, vol. 2, p. 91 ; Cambridge UL, KF.3.10

Cambridge University Library, as well as a number of institutions and museums in the UK, France, Germany and the US, holds an important collection of caricatures of the Franco-Prussian war and the Paris Commune, (hand-coloured) lithographs, most of them produced in series. Those focusing on the first siege of Paris include “Souvenirs du siège” (30 prints) and “Paris assiégé: scènes de la vie parisienne pendant le siège” (31 prints) by Draner; the “Album du siège” (39 prints) by Cham and Daumier, and two series by Faustin: “Paris bloqué” (24 prints) and “Les femmes de Paris assiégé (idylles et épopées)” (8 prints). In the context of a research project on 1870-71 Franco-Prussian caricatures, Cambridge Digital Library has already digitised the first of the six volumes of the Cambridge prints, and Cambridge Digital Humanities has funded the photography of the remainder of the collection, due when the library reopens. In the meantime, we can refer to other digitisations of this material, in particular that of Heidelberg University Library. Continue reading

Drawings of the Franco-German war of 1870-71: a new acquisition at Cambridge University Library

Last year Cambridge University Special Collections acquired, with the help of the Friends of the Library, a notebook of 47 drawings, probably produced by an unidentified soldier towards the end of the 19th century (MS Add. 10300). This acquisition adds to the library’s holdings of primary material relating to the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871, which ranges from bound volumes of contemporary caricatures (KF.3.9-14, see the earlier blogpost) to directories of caricaturists and their work (such as Berleux’s La caricature politique en France pendant la guerre, le siège de Paris et la Commune, 1870-1871, Lib.5.89.27 and Gallica) and facsimiles of posters produced during the Paris Commune (See Les murailles politiques francaises and Les affiches de la Commune). The interest of the notebook does not lie in the artistic talent of its creator, but rather in the examination of his visual culture, through the identification of the illustrations from contemporary books and prints which inspired his own drawings. The investigation of the sources he used reveals the kind of illustrated material he had access to, which is also key for the dating of the manuscript.


CUL, MS Add. 10300

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“Black models” in visual culture and modern arts

The Mémorial ACTe (Centre caribéen d’expressions et de mémoire de la Traite et de l’Esclavage) in Guadeloupe is hosting until December 2019 a jointly curated exhibition previously held at the Wallach Art Gallery at Columbia University in New York, Posing Modernity: The Black Model from Manet and Matisse to Today (October 2018 to February 2019, see C200.a.5469) and at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, Le Modèle noir, de Géricault à Matisse (March to July 2019, see S950.b.201.5919). The Memorial to slavery, opened in 2015, which is also a cultural centre and museum, seems an appropriate venue for this exhibition, which focuses on “the representation of the black figure in the development of modern art”. Continue reading

The Liberation of Paris, 19-29 August 1944: “Images de notre délivrance” by Georges Duhamel and Claude Lepape

1On the 75th anniversary of the Liberation of Paris, we would like to talk about Images de notre délivrance (Liberation.a.7), published in December 1944 by the Editions du Pavois (the publisher in 1946 of L’Univers concentrationnaire by David Rousset, which was awarded the Renaudot prize, Liberation.c.119 and Liberation.c.918). The book, clearly of a bibliophile nature, is presented by the editor as a documentary, the result of an accidental collaboration between a writer, Georges Duhamel (1884-1966), and an artist, Claude Lepape (1913-1994), both reacting to a unique historical event:

Ce livre est un document. Il est né de la rencontre fortuite de deux sensibilités. L’Ecrivain et le Dessinateur ne se sont pas concertés, mais leurs réactions, si diverses et en même temps si proches, constituent l’un des documents les plus émouvants sur les glorieuses journées de la libération.

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