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(en) Britain, Anarchist Federation Organise! #78 - Culture - Steinlen and Delannoy - the anarchist illustrators

Date Fri, 07 Sep 2012 10:13:23 +0300

Theophile Alexandre Steinlen was born at Lausanne in Switzerland in 1859. His grandfather was a water colourist and portrait painter and taught drawing. His father, who worked for the Post Office, always had a hankering to be a painter himself. As a child Steinlen had a deep love for animals and this love persisted in adult life above all in his many illustrations of cats that have proved lastingly popular. He studied at the Faculty of Letters at Lausanne. It was here that he read L’Assomoir, the social novel by Emile Zola on the subject of alcoholism among the working class which had a profound effect on him. He also had a veteran of the Paris Commune, Georges Renard, as a teacher. He was an indifferent student, and his uncle Vincent, recognising his artistic abilities, got him a job creating designs for fabrics at Mulhouse in France. He stayed with this job for two years.

Armed with a letter of recommendation for a fabric
designer, Steinlen, by now in his ear-
ly twenties, moved to the bohemian
neighbourhood of Montmartre in
Paris in 1881. There he met Adolphe
Willette, the painter and illustrator,
who was already contributing to the
booming French illustrated press.

He encouraged him to start contrib-
uting illustrations to this press. He
began illustrating for the magazine
of the cabaret Chat Noire (Black Cat)
and he met the Montmartre singer
Aristide Bruant there, made famous
by Toulouse-Lautrec in his celebrated
poster. His residence in Montmar-
tre meant that he met many poets
and painters, among them Lautrec
himself, the composer Erik Satie, the
poets Mallarmé and Verlaine, the
playwright Alfred Jarry, and many
others. He also contributed to other
magazines like Le Mirliton but his
most significant collaboration with
the illustrated press was the ten
years that he worked for Gil Blas Il-
lustré, to which he contributed more
than 700 designs.

Deeply moved by the appalling social
injustices he saw around him, he
used his work as an illustrator to
depict these injustices. He visited
women’s prisons and the mines and
made many sketches of what he wit-
nessed there. As a friend of the writ-
ers Emile Zola and Anatole France,
he supported the campaign for the
Jewish officer Dreyfus framed as a

"The humanity of the street,
the working class, the uned-
ucated, the exploited, were
the pervasive subject of
Steinlen's art" (Color Revo-
lution, p. 8, Cate and Hitch-
ings (1978))

Steinlen had at first developed
socialist ideas but in Paris started to
move more and more in an anarchist
direction after his initial involvement
in the Dreyfus campaign. He started
contributing to the anarchist press.
Among these was Chambard Social-
iste, which had a syndicalist outlook.
From its first appearance on 16th
December 1893 he began supply-
ing illustrations signed Petit Pierre.

The Chambard was a four page
weekly with a circulation of 20,000.
He stopped contributing to Cham-
bard Socialiste just before the mass
prosecution of French anarchists in
July 1894 and was forced to move
abroad to Norway and Germany for
six months.

Other magazines to which he con-
tributed his work were La Feuille of
the anarchist Zo D’Axa and the paper
La Révolte edited by the Russian
anarchist Peter Kropotkin, as well
as L’Anarchie, Le Libertaire and Le
Temps Nouveaux. His participation
in the anarchist movement allowed
him to meet painters who supported
the anarchist cause like Signac, Luce,
Pissarro, and Van Dongen. In 1903
he supported the anarchist colony at
Aiglemont in the Ardennes, visiting it
on several occasions and contribut-
ing illustrations to its publications.

The frescos that he painted on the
walls of the colony indicate that he
most likely spent some considerable
time there. Steinlen also contributed
to other illustrated papers like Le
Rire (The Laugh), La Caricature and
Simplicissimus and well as the biting
satirical L’Assiette au Beurre.

Despite his increasing success, Stein-
len was informed by strong anarchist
sensibilities and refused to let his
fame go to his head and for this he
was greatly respected among other
artists. Steinlen adopted an interna-
tionalist position on the outbreak of
the First World War and maintained
this position throughout it. He thus
became an isolated figure among
the illustrators of the period, When
the illustrated press went into a
rabid patriotic frenzy, he became an
isolated figure among the illustrators
of the period; Delannoy was dead,
and other anarchist illustrators like
Grandjouan and Jossot had been
infected by the patriotic dementia.
In the aftermath of the War Steinlen
appeared aged and often depressed.

He died in Paris in 1923 on the eve of
a new exhibition at the age of sixty
two. He remained an artistic cham-
pion of the poor, the oppressed and
the downtrodden until the end. In
one of his illustrations, still relevant
for today and its bonus swilling
bankers and embezzlers, he depicts
a workman being led away by two
policemen, sighing as he goes:“ Ha!
If only instead of bread I had stolen a
hundred million!”

Aristide Delannoy was born at
Bethune in France on the 30th July
1874. Obsessed with painting, he
took courses of drawing and paint-
ing with the artist Pharaon de Win-
ter at the school of Fine Arts in Lille.
He followed this up with a course
at the school of fine arts in Paris in
1897. He exhibited at the Salon des
Independents in 1904. However,
his painting did not bring in enough
money to support himself and his
family and so he turned to providing
designs for the French illustrated
press. He developed anarchist con-
victions and began supplying draw-
ings for L’Assiette au Beurre from
1901 onwards. Equally he began to
contribute sketches and drawings to
a range of anarchist, libertarian and
antimilitarist papers, including Les
Temps Nouveaux, La Guerre Sociale,
and Les Homme des Jours, for the
last of which he provided 150 cover

Les Hommes du Jour was founded
by Victor Meric and Henri Fabre
in 1908. Its first issue was a big
success, with a cover by Delannoy
depicting the head of Clemenceau
on a pike. For his activity Delan-
noy was put on a list of political
suspects by the police from 1903
onwards and he was brought in for
questioning on several occasions. As
a result of a caricature of the gen-
eral Albert d’ Amade, depicting him
as a butcher, in a butcher’s apron
with his hands covered in blood, he
was tried and condemned to a year
in prison and a thousand francs fine
on 26th September 1908. Because
of appalling conditions in the prison
he fell ill and was freed after four
months, following a campaign led by
the writer Anatole France. He was
soon in trouble with the authorities
again, following a series of anti-mili-
tarist illustrations he had produced,
but his health had been irrevocably
shattered and he died of tuberculosis
less than two year later on 5th May
1911, at the age of thirty seven.
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