- Author: DELASPRE, Henri
- Publisher: Service Photographique et Cinématographique de l’Armée (S.P.C.A) (Publishers) / Imp. Loubet Publicité, Paris (Printers)
- Date: 1918
- Dimensions: Sheet: 79 x 119 cms.
Delaspre’s superb 1918 poster, promoting a remarkable French propaganda film of the French infantry at war on the Western Front
About this piece:
L’INFANTERIE FRANCAISE DAN LA BATAILLE
[THE FRENCH INFANTRY IN BATTLE]
Printed Colours. Laid on Linen backing. A couple of small nicks and small punch holes along left border of poster. One barely visible very short closed tear within poster image in upper right, otherwise a very finely preserved example of this stunning poster.
The striking realism of this extremely large and impressive poster by French artist and illustrator, Henri Delaspre, offers a rare, and until now almost completely unrecognized, testament to the development of French wartime cinematography as a medium of propaganda.
Henri Delaspre is himself largely unknown and his career hitherto little studied. Born in Bordeaux in the early 1870’s, he moved to Paris to study at the École des Beaux Arts. By the late 1890’s he was an established Parisian print & poster artist, sculptor & theatrical stage designer. Marrying a Parisian opera singer, Antoinette Guyon in 1898, he became a close friend and collaborator of the French war correspondent & artist, Georges Scott [1873-1943]. In 1916, as an enlisted soldier with the rank of Sergeant, he worked closely with Scott to design & create the remarkable mobile theatre, known as the Théâtre du Front, in which leading Parisian artistes & performers entertained French & Allied troops along the Western Front throughout the rest of the War. Some splendid photos of the theatre are recorded including ones in the August 1916 Illustrated London News article below, as well as several official photographs held in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris.
It has gone largely unnoticed that this poster was also published to promote a wartime propaganda film of the French Service Photographique et Cinématographique de l’Armée [SPCA], who official stamp appears in the lower corner of the poster. The SPCA was created in 1915 & the film bears the same title as this poster. Seemingly produced in 1918 & still preserved in the French archives, it offers some remarkable footage of French troops on the Western front, collated by Army cameramen over the previous three years.
To view the film online go to: L’Infanterie Francaise dans la Bataille
The film was playing in Paris cinemas at the time of the 1918 Armistice & to packed houses in the post-war Syrian Protectorate, formerly part of the Ottoman Empire and an ally of Germany. Gustave Gautherot in his 1920 book, La France en Syrie et en Cilicie, noted that:
…dans la cour du sérail, toute la population dévora des yeux notre film cinématographique : “l’infanterie française dans la bataille” ; elle contemplait enfin notre épopée de la Grande Guerre, que la Gazette des Ardennes, très répandue en Syrie par les Allemands, lui avait jusqu’alors dépeinte sous de traîtresses couleurs.
The film was also incorporated into many post-war commemorations of the Battle of Verdun, so memorializing & crystallizing that powerful patriotic image of the French poilu resolutely holding the line, so vividly captured here and against the equally symbolic backdrop of a map of Northern France.
The film itself notes how these “sons of France” had offered a “mur vivant de leurs poitrines” against the German invader’s onslaught during the previous four hard years of conflict. That mur vivant contrasts symbolically with the physical one delineated on the poster: the prominently marked solid red front line that dissects the background map and passes directly through the soldier’s body, together with the equally symbolic natural frontier of the River Rhine, which is also highlighted with an equally distinctive red border along its eastern banks.
After the War, Delaspre continued working as an artist and sculptor, becoming particularly closely associated with a group of artists who spent much time painting and working in the Norman seaside resort of Carolles. A striking bronze bas relief embellishing the altar of the local church by Delaspre is one of Carolles’ fine artistic treasures and a street in the town is also named after him.