The permanence of the imagery of the Great War in political posters

The permanence of the imagery of the Great War in political posters

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  • Vote against the Cartel.

    BAILLE Hervé (1896 - 1974)

  • He had escaped German bullets ...


© ADAGP Collections La Contemporaine

He had escaped the German bullets ...

© Contemporary Collections

Publication date: August 2006

Historical context

The IIIe République, founded in 1870, emerged victorious from the Great War. The 1930s were the scene of a permanent campaign where street protests, press campaigns and political posters played a crucial role.

Image Analysis

In the first poster, the designer Hervé Baille (1896-1974) depicts the steep descent of a burning plane. At the center of the composition, the slogan "Vote against the Cartel", which recalls the electoral stake, stands out clearly against the background of smoke released by the apparatus in distress. The latter, reduced to a symbolic silhouette, doubly represents France with its tricolor tail and the 1 franc coin which replaces the usual cockade in the national colors. The use of the symbolism of aviation, underlined in the commentary by the words "control levers", attests to the relevance of the images linked to the fighting of the Great War. The poster also exploits the representation, traditional for the right, of a France on fire and blood when the "revolutionary" left challenges the established order.
The second poster plays even more strongly with the imagery, this time colorist, of the First World War. In the foreground, a bloodied man lies on the ground; his costume underlines his respectability, his medals his courage and his quality of veteran. The red of the blood and that of the ribbon, inseparably linked, stand out clearly against the gray and black background. The misty background lets guess the Place de la Concorde: the action takes place on February 6, 1934. In the background, a trio of characters drawn in black clearly offers the image of mourning: two innocent orphans surround the widow, news Mater dolorosa. The ensemble, in which the widow with her face marked by pain overlooks the fallen soldier, immediately recalls the sculptures that adorn certain war memorials of the Great War.


The haunting presence of 14-18 and its references during this interwar period had the effect of saturating the political imagination and restraining the factors of renewal. The poster on which the plane appears plays on the polysemy of the political vocabulary of the time, which readily borrows its metaphors from the lexical field of war. Here, Hervé Baille represents the “battle for the franc” which is at the heart of France's foreign policy and debates between right and left. We thus notice that the 1 franc coin appears on the right wing of the burning plane - a sign that the left would have ruined all the efforts of the right (National Bloc, Poincaré government). The Left Cartel (1924-1926) effectively failed in its struggle for the recovery of state finances and in its renegotiation of reparations vis-à-vis Germany. Édouard Herriot failed to combine the repayment of war loans with the United States with the payment of the financial penalty imposed on defeated Germany. National Defense bonds lose their value, the sharp fall. However, international power, traditionally, is linked in people's minds to a strong currency: France unscrews because it is badly managed, only the right has a firm enough hand to lead the country. In spite of this argument, in 1932, the French, more concerned by the economic and social crisis, voted overwhelmingly for a “Union of the left” enlarged compared to the Cartel of 1924.
The second poster also focuses on a very specific episode in French history, in the strictly political domain. On February 6, 1934, the troops overwhelmed by the events fired well with live ammunition during the multiple demonstrations organized in the capital by very diverse organizations: Croix-de-Feu of Colonel La Roque and other far-right leagues on the Place de la Concorde , Republican Association of Veterans (close to the Communists) on the Champs-Élysées. Result: fifteen dead and hundreds injured. The man depicted here with the shattered skull is the victim of violence that is all the more unacceptable as he was clearly disarmed. Based on his medals, he is a hero of the 14-18 war. By claiming that he was able to evade "German bullets" but not those of the Cartel, the text of the poster places the latter in the camp of the enemies of the nation. The anti-parliamentary riots this time precipitated the return of the right to power. This reminder-shaped poster, which draws a parallel between the Great War and the Civil War, places the violence of the French political scene of the 1930s at the heart of the image.

  • February 6, 1934
  • Communism
  • War of 14-18
  • socialism
  • Third Republic
  • anticommunism


Maurice AGULHON, The Republic, Paris, Hachette, coll. "Pluriel", 1990.Dominique BORNE and Henri DUBIEF, The Depression of the 1930s (1929-1938), Paris, Le Seuil, coll. "Points", 1989. Jean-François SIRINELLI (dir.), The French rights, from the Revolution to the present day, Paris, Gallimard, coll. "History Folio", 1992.Michel WINOCK, Nationalism, anti-Semitism and fascism in France, Paris, Le Seuil, coll. "Points", 1990.Michel WINOCK, "Le 6 February 1934" in Hexagonal Fever, Paris, Le Seuil, coll. "Points", 1987.

To cite this article

Alexandre SUMPF, "The permanence of the imagery of the Great War in political posters"

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