A look at the life and work of the Swiss anarchist artist Alexandre Mairet, noted for his woodcuts.
Alexandre Mairet was born in 1880 in La Tour-de-Peilz in the canton of Vaud (Switzerland). He was the only son of Louis Auguste Mairet and Marie Louise née Prélat. He spent most of his very early childhood being raised by a peasant family in St. Légier .
At the age of five he rejoined his mother in Geneva. From 1896 to 1899 he studied at the School of Fine and Industrial Arts in Geneva. From 1901 he worked in the studio of the Maurice xylographer (wood engraver) Maurice Baud. From 1903 to 1907, he made numerous trips to Arnex near Orbe (Vaud) and the Dent de Lys (canton of Fribourg). Sharing the life of shepherds, he then painted mostly watercolours. To live, he sold paintings that were more in demand than the wood engravings which were beginning to be pushed aside by photography. From 1908 to 1910, he travelled to Italy (Florence, Rome), Greece and Egypt. In 1920, he visited Paris and did some painting there. He also organized an exhibition by Swiss artists in Turin.
He came across the writings of Tolstoy and in 1905 wrote him a letter of appreciation. He treasured the reply he received from the Russian writer all of his life.
During the First World War, he gravitated towards the anti-war circles animated by the French writer Romain Rolland, now in exile in Geneva. These circles published several periodicals. Some were illustrated by the Belgian woodcut specialist Frans Masereeel (1889-1972). Masereel, on whom we hope to have an article in a future copy of Organise! was a Belgian anarchist who had refused conscription and had fled to Switzerland, where he stayed from 1915 until 1921. The two artists met and Masereel’s work had a profound influence on Mairet’s own works.
In 1916, Alexander Mairet contributed to the anti-war magazine pacifist Carmel. He then, probably through Masereel, came in contact with the Swiss anarchist circles around Louis (Luigi) Bertoni and Lucien Tronchet. From 1918 to 1930 he illustrated their fortnightly bilingual (French and Italian) newspaper. Bertoni(1872-1947) a typographer, was the founder in 1900 of this publication Il Risveglio Anarchico /Le Réveil Anarchiste in Geneva. The newspaper had become Le Réveil Anarchiste Communiste in 1913 and from 1 May 1926 Le Réveil Anarchiste. Alexander Mairet created more than forty woodcuts for it. Some of these woodcuts were arranged as short cartoons and they were hard hitting attacks on unemployment, capitalism, religion, law and war. Other woodcuts illustrated workers’ resistance, scenes from demonstrations and the barricades. Mairet also provided illustrations on the theme of the trial and execution of the Italian-American anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti. Between 1917 and 1922 he also contributed to The New International, journal of the French speaking Swiss Socialist Youth and then the Vanguard , organ of the Swiss Communist Party.
In 1919, he obtained a position in art history at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Geneva, where he remained until 1946. In 1922, he was one of the founders of the Association of Painters, Sculptors, and Art Designers of the canton of Geneva, on which he served as secretary. He was much appreciated by other artists because of his warm, loyal and supportive character and never sought titles or honours.
The above article appeared in Issue 82 of Organise! the magazine of the Anarchist Federation