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[La Lune]: Carte du Théatre de la Guerre des Journaux, par Gill

  • Author: GILL, André
  • Publisher: La Lune, Paris
  • Date: 1866
  • Dimensions: Map: 32.8 x 31.5 cms / Sheet: 32.8 x 48 cms.


André Gill’s imaginative map of the Battle for French magazine & newspaper readers, a cover design for “La Lune”, 1st July 1866

About this piece:

[La Lune]: Carte du Théatre de la Guerre des Journaux, par Gill

[Nouvelle Série – No.17 – 1er Juillet 1866]. Uncoloured. Original folio magazine comprising four pages, the map to lower section of front (title) page, a page of engrave caricatures, “Le Jour du Terme” by A Humbert to back page. Traces of old vertical & horizontal folds. Some slight damage along left sheet edge, at binding holes where originally bound in to larger volume.

This remarkable map was published on the front page of the French satirical Magazine, La Lune, at the height of the Austro-Prussian War of 1866 and just two days before the defining Battle of Sadowa, which sealed Prussia’s victory.

The map is the work of the great French satirical artist and illustrator André Gill [ 1840-1885]. Christened Louis-Alexandre Gosset de Guînes, he was the natural son of the Comte de Guînes and Sylvie-Adelinne Gosset, a dressmaker from the Aisne region of France. After studying a the Paris Academy of Fine Arts, he is supposed to have adopted the pen name Gill in homage to his hero, the great English cartoonist, James Gillray. His route into commercial illustration was, like so many of his fellow contemporaries, through the array of illustrated magazines and journals that flourished in Paris during this mid-19th Century period. After an initial spell with the Journal Amusant, he moved to La Lune, under the direction of Francois Polo, where he worked as leading illustrator and caricaturist between 1865 and 1868. Following the publication of particularly unflattering caricature of Napoleon III by Gill in 1867, La Lune suffered the wrath of the censor and received an official ban and ceased publication. As Polo noted, La Lune will have to undergo an eclipse, thereby giving title to his hasty reincarnation of La Lune, entitled L’Eclipse, for whom Gill continued to work until 1876, following its first appearance in August 1868. Gill also worked for the famous Charivari newspaper. During the Commune, Gill illustrated the newspaper of Jules Vallès, La Rue. During the final five years of his life he suffered a mental breakdown and was committed to the Charenton asylum, where he died in May 1885, with only one remaining friend, caricaturist Emile Cohl [1857-1938] a regular visitor and present when he died.

A map which one expects to display the theatre of operations of the present war is transformed by the artist, Gill, into a cleverly constructed cartoon map depicting the battles for circulation and readership between the leading French Magazines and Newspapers of the Day. States and principalities of region that appears to closely resemble the lands of Central Europe between Denmark to Italy, become the imaginary domains of contemporary magazine owners and newspaper barons battling competitively amongst themselves for primary status and power through expanding circulation and a growing list of new subscribers.

The titles described include Le Journal Amusant, Petit (Journal) pour Rire, La Vie Parisienne, La Presse Illustré, Le Monde Illustré, Le Journal Politique, Le Journal Illustré, Le Petit Journal, Le Soleil, L’Evenement, L’Etincelle, and Le Figaro, each delineated within its own territorial borders, several with small vignette portraits of their owners, editors and leading writers, such as Jenet, Timothée, Marx, Rochefort, Monselet and Du Montaut.

A mock announcement in the lower right corner clarifies the on-going hostilities between the belligerents. This is outlined as a battle between the combined southern forces of Le Figaro & L’Evenement (owned by Hippolyte de Villemessant [1810-1879]) and the northern forces of Le Monde Illustré and La Presse Illustré (both owned by Edmond Pointel & whom Gill tongue in cheek calls La Prusse) against the central empire of Le Petit Journal, Le Soleil, Le Journal Politique & Le Journal Illustré, all owned by another Parisian banker & newspaper magnate, Moïse Polydore Millaud [1813-1871] .

One of the particularly hard-fought battlegrounds was the manner in which many of these Magazines and journals sought to hook new subscribers. This commercial El Dorado, the Royaume de L’Abonné (Kingdom of the Subscriber), is depicted in the lower right of the map, littered with coins, notes and sacks of gold.

Every possible ruse, gift and enticement was used in this increasingly bitter and hard-fought battle for new subscribers & a growing circulation. 

One such hook was the so-called roman feuilleton, the serialisation in weekly instalments of the works of the most popular writers of the day.

So it was that large financial enticements were offered by magazines and journals to prominent authors such as Victor Hugo and Pierre Alexis Ponson du Terrail [1829-1871]. In 1865/66 both had signed contracts with Millaud’s Le Soleil and Le Petit Journal respectively for the serialisation rights to their latest novels, Les Travailleurs de la Mer and La Resurrection de Rocambole. Rocambole, now relatively little known outside France, was perhaps one of the greatest and most enduring literary heroes of mid-19th Cerntury French fiction, a shadowy adventurer, using the alias of an Irish baronet “Sir Williams”, often working on the wrong side of the law but ultimately doing good and displaying a range of exotic skills and rare talents. His character, reputation and popularity had been developed over several years by Ponson du Terrail since 1857, mainly through the vehicle of the roman feuilleton.

These were the heavy artillery in the battle for magazine subscribers and are depicted by Gill on his map in the form of small canons.

Interestingly to entice those subscribers who wanted to read Hugo’s novel in one sitting, Villemessant’s rival magazine, the daily L’Evénement had also purchased the rights to the complete edition of Les Travailleurs de la Mer !

The respective rewards for both author and newspaper owner were rich indeed. The impact of the work of an author such as Victor Hugo on a Magazine’s circulation was immediate. In 1866 Ulbach, Villemessant’s agent, believed that Hugo’s Les Travailleurs would more than double the circulation of L’Evénement overnight, from around 45,000 subscribers to perhaps 100,000. It was said in one report by Millaud that Hugo’s serialisation would increase Le Soleil‘s circulation to some 300,000 subscribers, a figure which seems vastly exaggerated. By the same token, it is said Hugo himself received the equivalent of about 10,000 francs per day for the serialisation of Les Travailleurs in Le Soleil for the period of around 100 days during which the instalments appeared in 1866, a vast fortune even in comparison with amounts Hugo received for many of his other great works, including Les Misérables. Villemessant himself was indeed a master of the circulation wars. In 1865/66 reports suggest that he managed to double the circulation of L’Evénement by offering a free basket of twelve mandarin oranges to every new subscriber, fruits which even then were of considerable rarity. The battle was hard won however, as Villemessant is known to have closed L’Evénement in November 1866, just five months after this amusing map appeared. The cut-throat nature of this battleground is acknowledged by Gill in the illustration of the large cut-throat razor lower centre.

A fascinating and unusual imaginary map of the battles of the Parisian Press in 1866.

Refs: Roderick M Barron: Bringing the Map to Life: European Satirical Maps 1845-1945, p.454, Fig.7, in: Belgeo  2008.3-4: Formatting Europe – Mapping a Continent