Library of Congress Prints and Photographs: An Illustrated Guide
Previous Table of Contents Next

Portfolio 3: Politics and Propaganda

Because it offers the possibility for inexpensive and rapid dissemination of images, printmaking has ever been a perennial tool of political interests and causes. Today historians recognize political ephemera as a sensitive index of the changing winds of opinion and ideology in societies past. From propaganda posters to drawings by contemporary editorial cartoonists to designs for national monuments, the Library's collection is the most extensive existing resource for the comparative study of the political uses of art.

Thumbnail image of James Gillray's "The Grand Coronation Procession of Napoleone the Ist Emperor of France, from the Church of Notre-Dame. Decr. 2d. 1804 (Etching with watercolor on wove paper)" James Gillray. The Grand Coronation Procession of Napoleone the Ist Emperor of France, from the Church of Notre-Dame. Decr. 2d. 1804. Etching with watercolor on wove paper. Published by Hannah Humphrey, London, January 1, 1805.
Reproduction #: LC-USZC4-3898 (color transparency); LC-USZC2-612 (color slide); LC-USZ62-111926 (b&w film copy neg.)

James Gillray was among the most popular, prolific, revered, and reviled print satirists of the golden age of English caricature, which lasted from 1770 to 1820. During this period, revolution rocked France, bringing the brilliant and charismatic military leader Napoleon Bonaparte to power, and sending shock waves of fear and anxiety across the Channel. Bonaparte became a favorite target of British satirists, and Gillray responded in characteristically spectacular fashion with this parody of the pomp and ceremony surrounding the imperial coronation. The work augments the Library's collection of almost 10,000 British satirical prints assembled in Windsor Castle by a succession of British monarchs, from George III onward, and acquired by the Library in 1920. (Caroline and Erwin Swann Memorial Fund Purchase)

Thumbnail image of Thomas Strong's "Union (Wood-cut printed in colors on paper, 1848)" Thomas W. Strong. Union. Wood-cut printed in colors on paper, 1848.
Reproduction #: LC-USZC4-2713 (color transparency)

From early on, American presidential campaigns bore a striking resemblance to another popular spectacle: the circus. Mexican war hero Zachary Taylor's 1848 campaign borrowed a leaf from the circus publicists' book by introducing to the pageantry of the political contest large colorful woodcut posters. This example, the earliest known presidential campaign poster, was produced even before Taylor clinched the Whig party's nomination. Taylor's celebrity was so great at the time that the artist did not feel compelled to even include the candidate's name on the work. (Transfer, U.S. Copyright Office)

Thumbnail image of Käthe Kollwitz's "Aufruhr (Uprising) (Etching, drypoint, and aquatint on wove paper, 1899)"Käthe Kollwitz. Aufruhr (Uprising). Etching, drypoint, and aquatint on wove paper, 1899.
Reproduction #: LC-USZC4-3900 (color transparency); LC-USZ62-52296 (b&w film copy neg.)

Much of the art of modern social protest traces its roots to the work of German artist Kathe Kollwitz. One of a cycle of prints and drawings which the youthful Kollwitz produced on the theme of peasant revolt, her impassioned Uprising hearkened back to the Bauernkrieg (literally, "farmers' war") of the sixteenth century while portraying the dire straits of agricultural laborers in contemporary Germany. (Pennell Fund purchase)

Thumbnail image of Boardman Robinson's "Europe 1916 (Lithographic crayon, ink and gouache on paper, 1916)" Boardman Robinson. Europe 1916. Lithographic crayon, ink and gouache on paper, 1916.
Reproduction #: LC-USZC4-3901 (color transparency)

World War I was viewed by American socialists as the product of international competition between industrial capitalists. Artists like Boardman Robinson, John Sloan, and others used the leftist journal The Masses as their platform to take an adamantly pacifist stance amid mounting bloodshed in Europe and the inexorable drift of American public opinion toward involvement in the conflict. The Library's collection of American political drawings is the most extensive in existence, numbering over eight thousand original works. (Ben and Beatrice Goldstein Foundation Collection. Caroline and Erwin Swann Memorial Fund purchase)

Thumbnail image of James Montgomery Flagg's "I Want You for the U.S. Army (Offset lithograph, 1917)"James Montgomery Flagg. I Want You for the U.S. Army. Offset lithograph, 1917.
Reproduction #: LC-USZC4-594 (color transparency); LC-USZC2-564 (color slide); LC-USZ62-8278 (b&w film copy neg.)

Flagg's memorable and marvelously intrusive recruiting poster was produced under the auspices of the Division of Pictorial Publicity of the Committee on Public Information during World War I. Flagg was one of an army of American illustrators mobilized by Charles Dana Gibson for the war effort. Under Gibson's direction, the Division was extraordinarily successful in galvanizing American public opinion in favor of U.S. involvement in the European conflict, shoring up Woodrow Wilson's effort to make the world safe for democracy. (Gift of the Talbot County Public Library)

Thumbnail image of Leni Riefenstahl's "Erwin Huber war bester Europäer im Olympischen Zehnkampf / Erwin Huber was the leading European in the Olympic Decathlon (Gelatin silver print, 1936)" Leni Riefenstahl. Erwin Huber war bester Europäer im Olympischen Zehnkampf / Erwin Huber was the leading European in the Olympic Decathlon. Gelatin silver print, 1936.
Reproduction #: LC-USZ62-78892 (b&w film copy neg.)

The outstanding German filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl is today remembered chiefly for her work in support of the Third Reich. Riefenstahl produced and presented to Adolph Hitler at Christmas 1936 an album of still photographs of scenes from the summer 1936 Olympiad. The album, including this image of the German discus thrower Erwin Huber, is now part of the Library's collections. It documents the creation of Riefenstahl's award-winning film Olympia, and the cult of sport and physical fitness which was fundamental to Nazi ideology. (Transfer, Department of Defense)

Thumbnail image of P. Sokolov-Scalia's "The Result of Fascist Culture (Poster, hand-stenciled with letterpress text, 1939)" P. Sokolov-Scalia. The Result of Fascist Culture. Poster, hand-stenciled with letterpress text, 1939.
Reproduction #: LC-USZC4-3903 (color transparency)

The Soviet news agency TASS played a crucial role in supporting armed resistance to the Nazi invasion of the USSR in 1939. Massive German armored forces easily overwhelmed Soviet border defenses and rolled to the gates of Moscow itself, before being turned back by Allied soldiers. Weekly, TASS issued posters designed to stoke patriotic fervor and anti-German feeling, which it displayed in news agency offices in the major Soviet cities. This work decries Nazi crimes against Russian culture, asserting that "Deathless is the genius of the Russian nation." The Library owns what is probably the most extensive surviving set of the TASS posters. (Gift of the Packer Outdoor Advertising Company)

Paul Szep. Vietnam Specters. India ink on scratchboard. Published in the Boston Globe, 1967. [Not currently available due to copyright restrictions.]

During the 1960s, extensive news coverage of the Vietnam War contributed to growing antiwar sentiment in the United States. The strength of that sentiment divided the nation and the Democratic party, and convinced President Lyndon Baines Johnson to withdraw from the 1968 election campaign. Two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Paul Szep dramatically captured the political mood and created a powerful and unforgettable image in this depiction of LBJ haunted by the ghosts of dead American soldiers. (Caroline and Erwin Swann Collection)

Thumbnail image of Maya Ying Lin's "Vietnam Veterans Memorial Competition (Presentation panel in mixed media on paper, 1981)" Maya Ying Lin. Vietnam Veterans Memorial Competition. Presentation panel in mixed media on paper, 1981.
Reproduction #: LC-USZC4-1353 (color transparency); LC-USZC4-1027 (color transparency of top left); LC-USZC4-1028 (color transparency of bottom right); LC-USZ62-90338 (b&w film copy neg.) LC-USZ62-90337 (b&w film copy neg. of bottom left); LC-USZ62-90340 (b&w film copy neg. of bottom right)

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, originally designed as a student project by Maya Lin for her degree at Yale University Architectural School, has become a profound national symbol and a seminal piece of American monumental architecture. Undertaken to heal a nation torn apart by the controversial war, the competition attracted proposals from thousands of veterans and architects. Lin envisioned a black granite wall, in the shape of a V, on which the names of the American military dead and missing would be inscribed. The architect hoped that "these names, seemingly infinite in number, [would] convey the sense of overwhelming numbers, while unifying these individuals into a whole." Since its unveiling, the work--popularly known as "the wall"--has become a point of reference for all American memorials. Maya Lin's drawing is included in the archive of the competition presented to the Library by the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial Committee. (Gift of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Committee)

Previous Table of Contents Next

Go to:

Library of Congress
Legal | External Link Disclaimer
Ask a Librarian ( December 5, 2017 )