Grandjouan- creator of the first illustrated political poster

Autori - by Grandjouan, 1903

A short article on Jules Felix Grandjouan, anarchist illustrator

Jules Félix Grandjouan was born on 22nd December 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 magazine 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 involvement with this paper he contributed more than a thousand designs. He also began to contribute 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 socialists. 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 military facing up to strikers on the cover and inside contributed two further cartoons one of which depicts a soldier recognising himself among the strikers: “What an exploited face… Oh my God, it’s mine!” He underlined the common 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 consequence 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 arrested) 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 incitement to violence during demonstrations in Nantes against the execution by the Spanish government of his friend Francisco Ferrer.

In 1910 during the national rail strike Grandjouan produced no less than three posters in solidarity with the strikers. That same year he produced two powerful anti-parliamentary posters during the legislative elections for the Comité Révolutionnaire Antiparlementaire ( Revolutionary Antiparliamentary Committee). He had a key role in setting up this committee, carrying out many tasks for it and addressing many meetings on its behalf.
Thirteen of Grandjouan’s colleagues 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 experienced. In consequence Grandjouan 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 incoming Poincaré government which had replaced the Clemenceau regime. Sickened by the general lack of response to the persecution of himself and his colleagues he absorbed himself in his artistic activities with a consequent withdrawal from his political work.

He avoided a call up during the First World War because of his short sightedness and was assigned 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 contribution to the current illustrated press which had turned rabidly pro-war.

Whilst Steinlen became depressed 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 reported on it with a series of illustrations. In November 1930 he was elected as the French delegate of the Communist front, the International Bureau of Revolutionary Painters. However his old combative 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 Russia 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 completely 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 twentieth century remains his greatest achievement.

Nick Heath

The above appeared in No.79 of Organise! the Anarchist Federation magazine

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Oct 9 2015 15:31


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