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(en) Britain, Anarchist Federation, Organise! #79 - Culture Article Grandjouan: Creator of the First Illustrated Political Poster

Date Tue, 04 Dec 2012 12:30:11 +0200


Jules Félix Grandjouan was born on 22nd December 1875 in Nantes, France, into a well-off family. His father died when he was seven and he was then raised by his mother and her parents. It was probably his grandmother, who was a talented embroiderer and who also designed models, who first interested him in the arts. Jules was able to observe all the bustling activity of the busy port town from his window as a child, which had an influence on his forthcoming artistic work. -- He was raised with a traditional religious education. He followed the usual educational course for young men of his rank, including a law course at Paris. It is probable that it was during this period that he first came in contact with the radical movements of the time. He began work as a lawyer’s clerk, and in 1897 married Bettina Simon, a militant school teacher, who like him supported the developing workers’ movements.

His artistic sensibilities began to develop at this point and he contributed drawings to two magazines. Bettina and Jules’ four children were to attend free schools including that of La Ruche set up by the anarchist Sebastien Faure.

In 1899 he published his first set
of lithographs dedicated to his
home town, entitled Nantes La
Grise (Nantes the Grey)-Nantes
was often shrouded in mist hence
the name. At the same time
he became involved in drawing
political cartoons for the maga-
zine Le Petit Phare at the time
of the review of the sentence on
Dreyfus (the Jewish officer falsely
accused of spying and treason,
whose cause was taken up many
intellectuals and artists, not least
Emile Zola).

In 1901 Jules joined the editorial
team of the hard-hitting satirical
weekly with an anarchist leaning
L’Assiette au Beurre. He probably
had few misgivings about giving
up his job as a lawyer’s clerk.
Over the course of his involve-
ment with this paper he con-
tributed more than a thousand
designs. He also began to con-
tribute to a whole range of other
libertarian papers: La Guerre
Sociale, Le Conscrit, La Voix
du Peuple, La Vie Ouvriére, Le
Libertaire , Les Temps Nouveaux,
etc. He effectively attacked
religion, patriotism, militarism,
colonialism and the capitalists as
well as the so-called progressive
Radicals and parliamentary social-
ists. He was sympathetic towards
the rapidly expanding anarcho-
syndicalist movement and was a
good friend of one of its pioneers
Emile Pouget. He illustrated the
pamphlet The Syndicalist ABC,
written by Georges Yvetot.
In a special “Strike” issue of
L’Assiette au Beurre in 1905
Grandjouan depicted the mili-
tary facing up to strikers on the
cover and inside contributed two
further cartoons one of which de-
picts a soldier recognising himself
among the strikers: “ What an
exploited face... Oh my God, it’s
mine!” He underlined the com-
mon interests of workers and rank
and file soldiers in this issue.
When Emma Goldman was in
France in 1907 she met with
Grandjouan who told her :
“ There is not an artist of conse-
quence who is not an anarchist”,
referring here to French artists
only. A cover of Goldman’s paper
Mother Earth featured a cover
by Grandjouan in the November
issue of that year.

In 1908 he designed a poster
for the affair at Villeneuve Saint
Georges (an outlying suburb of
Paris where several strikers were
shot down and many leading
militants of the syndicalist union
the Confédération Générale du
Travail including Pouget were ar-
rested) This poster is considered
as the first illustrated political
poster. Around this time he also
produced the painting “Shame On
Those Who Don’t Revolt Against
Social Injustice”. Grandjouan
became the only poster designer
used by the CGT.

In 1909 he was arrested for incite-
ment to violence during demon-
strations in Nantes against the
execution by the Spanish gov-
ernment of his friend Francisco
Ferrer.

In 1910 during the national rail
strike Grandjouan produced no
less than three posters in solidar-
ity with the strikers. That same
year he produced two powerful
anti-parliamentary posters during
the legislative elections for the
Comité Révolutionnaire Antiparle-
mentaire (Revolutionary Antipar-
liamentary Committee). He had a
key role in setting up this commit-
tee, carrying out many tasks for it
and addressing many meetings on
its behalf.

Thirteen of Grandjouan’s col-
leagues on L’Assiette Au Beurre
were sentenced over this period
to prison terms and he did as
much as possible to help them.
He himself was charged in 1909
for his drawings and designs, but
was acquitted. Tried again on the
same charges in 1911 he received
a prison sentence of eighteen
months. The same year his friend
and comrade Aristide Delannoy
(see article on him in Organise!
78) also an illustrator for the
anarchist press, died as a result of
the prison conditions he had ex-
perienced In consequence Grand-
jouan decided to flee to Germany
where he sought sanctuary at the
dance school of Isadora Duncan,
his lover. He then voyaged to
Venice and Egypt. Returning to
France in 1912 he was pardoned
the following year by the incom-
ing Poincaré government which
had replaced the Clemenceau
regime. Sickened by the general
lack of response to the persecu-
tion of himself and his colleagues
he absorbed himself in his artistic
activities with a consequent with-
drawal from his political work.
He avoided a call up during the
First World War because of his
short sightedness and was as-
signed to the auxiliary service.
In my article in Organise! 78 on
Steinlen and Delannoy I referred
to Grandjouan as being infected
by the patriotic frenzy, a view
held by several commentators.
A recent study by Joëlle Beurier
disputes this, pointing out that
Grandjouan adopted more or less
the same position as his friend
Steinlen, with very little contri-
bution to the current illustrated
press which had turned rabidly
pro-war.

Whilst Steinlen became de-
pressed and withdrawn in the
aftermath of the war, it affected
Grandjouan in a different way.
This ferocious anarchist and anti-
parliamentarian now thought that
the way forward was with the
newly formed Communist Party.
He stood for the party in the
elections in 1924 against Aristide
Briand, the right wing socialist
whom he had often attacked in
his cartoons, securing only 2,832
votes against Briand’s 32,551.

This from the man who had
coined the slogan “ Don’t Vote
Any More, Prepare to Revolt”! He
visited Russia in 1926 and report-
ed on it with a series of illustra-
tions. In November 1930 he was
elected as the French delegate of
the Communist front, the Inter-
national Bureau of Revolutionary
Painters. However his old combat-
ive spirit seemed to return to him
a few months later. His friend the
old libertarian Romanian writer
Panait Istrati, famous for writing
in French, had returned from Rus-
sia and provided a critical report
of conditions there. Grandjouan
supported him and as a result was
expelled from the Bureau and the
Party as he refused to “correct his
error”.

Grandjouan now withdrew com-
pletely from political life. During
the Second World War he raised
cows and goats. Returning to his
home town of Nantes he died
there in 1968, just after the May
events. Perhaps he took comfort
from that, who knows? Whatever
the vicissitudes of his later life, his
vast output of anti-capitalist art
in the early decades of the twen-
tieth century remains his greatest
achievement.
_________________________________________
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