French Posters from World War I
Library of Congress Collections on CD-ROM
Link to: About the posters | Access to the posters | Selected posters
When used in a political context, the word "propaganda" often conjures up negative images, reverberating with judgments of various movements, campaigns, or ideologies. Applied to the promotion of a cause such as World War I, however, propaganda carries with it an entirely different connotation. A cause that touched the French populace and indeed the world as nothing had before, the war evoked a response that became especially evident in 1914, when the French government selected the poster as a positive instrument of war propaganda. The poster became a new weapon on the home front and on the battlefield.
Despite their military defeat in the FrancoPrussian war of 1870-71, the French became world leaders in commercial art in the following two decades. This time of industrialization brought both technological innovation and other changes, one of which was the development of the modern illustrated poster, which French artists introduced as a new art form in the 1880s and 1890s. With the outbreak of World War I, artists were called upon for the first time to play a specialized role in a war. They created some of the finest aesthetic images and most effective posters on such important and emotional topics as war finance, support for the "poilu," women and the war effort, and war entertainment.
The formation of the Library of Congress poster collection began in 1870 when the United States Congress enacted legislation making the Library the central agency for the registration and custody of copyright deposits. This new law specified that all collections which had previously accumulated in district courts, government agencies, the Department of State, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Patent Office be transferred to the Library of Congress. These copyright deposits form the nucleus of the collection. Since 1870, additional extensive gifts from private donors and institutions, many exchanges of duplicate materials, and some selective purchases have expanded the collection to approximately 100,000 pieces, representing all major countries. Among some 2,000 posters that were published in France in the collection, 284 are from the World War I era. Most of these were gifts from individual donors, and they include 35 posters donated by the Woodward & Lothrop department store in Washington, D.C.
The French World War I poster collection illustrates how the poster became an effective propaganda tool, altering the functions of men and women in wartime and changing so ciety’s perspective on the war, leaving as well a visual heritage for the next generation and future historians. It is with deep appreciation that we acknowledge the contributions of the following Library staff members whose help made this publication possible: Elizabeth Parker, Bernard Reilly, Helena Zinkham, Mary Ison, Carol Armbruster, Reid Baker, Cathy Hoban, Kermit Klouser, Barbara Natanson, Mary Mundy, Evelyn Sinclair, Arlene Hughes, and Georgia Zola and CD- ROM designer Debbie Rhode. I would also like to thank Donald Kloster (Smithsonian Institution, Armed Forces History) for his interest in and support for the project.
Elena G. Millie Curator of Posters
The posters and accompanying checklist were issued on CD-ROM in 1996 under the title French Posters from World War I: Library of Congress Collections on CD-ROM. The CD-ROM is now out of print.
Digital images of all the posters, with accompanying searchable catalog records are available in the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog.
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