Political intrigue has long served as artistic fodder, and political cartoons provide a particularly fascinating way to trace the winding paths of historical events, and the way in which this amusing and often subversive commentary offered readers alternative viewpoints on the events of the day. This post explores the way in which people and events connected with the Crimean War were represented in the French and British satirical press. It focuses specifically on cartoons by Honoré Daumier, John Tenniel, and John Leech that appeared in Le Charivari (France) and Punch, or the London Charivari (England), two major 19th-century satirical publications.
Special Collections is proudly home to several collections featuring the art of political satire, including one of the major Daumier collections in the United States. The Benjamin A. and Julia M. Trustman Collection of Honoré Daumier Lithographs (collection finding aid here) comprises nearly the entire oeuvre of Daumier in the lithographic medium, making it a unique resource for the study of Daumier's art and nineteenth-century French history. The entire collection of lithographs has been digitized and placed in the Brandeis Institutional Repository (BIR). This digitization was made possible by a 2001 Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) grant. See the Daumier Spotlight for more information about the Trustman collection as a whole and the Spotlight on Punch's Pocket Book for more about that Punch-offshoot publication. Partial or whole runs of Punch, The Illustrated London News, and Le Charivari can be found in the Library stacks and in Special Collections.
The Russo-Turkish War and the subsequent Crimean War flared between 1853 and 1856, and together they constituted the largest international conflict involving European powers between the Napoleonic Wars and World War I. Starting in 1851, political tensions ran high between France and Russia over which country should serve as guardian of the Christian Holy Places in Palestine, which at the time fell within the borders of the Ottoman Empire. After the Turks granted guardianship of the Holy Places to France, Russia reacted by occupying the Danubian Principalities on July 2, 1853 and invading Ottoman territory on March 20, 1854. One week later, Britain and France joined Turkey in declaring war on Russia. The Turks surprisingly beat the Russians back, pushing them out of Ottoman territory. Russia, however, refused to accept the terms of peace, prompting an invasion of the Crimea by Great Britain and France with the goal of capturing the naval port at Sebastopol and forcing Russia into submission.
The Crimean War has been termed the first media war. The development of the telegraph allowed news of the war to be sent home within days rather than weeks. Photography for the first time captured the brutality of war, and these images stirred up considerable outcries among the English and French public. Due to the obscure politics driving the war and the almost immediate reportage of events on the battle fields, popular enthusiasm in support of the war never materialized in England or France.
During the time of the Crimean War, Le Charivari and Punch were the leading satirical publications in France and England, respectively. The French artist Honoré Daumier published many of his famous lithographs in Le Charivari, while John Leech and John Tenniel (the original illustrator of the Alice in Wonderland books) produced almost all of the illustrations for Punch. These political cartoonists reflected the public' s general ambivalence towards the war by lampooning the botched diplomacy and inept military leadership that led to needless suffering among the soldiers. Most of their satirical invective, however, was aimed at Russia and its role in fomenting war.
The Crimean War: The Turkish Question
|Russia in Europe with Transcaucasia.|
(from The History of the War Against Russia by Edward Henry Nolan. London: Virtue, [1855-57?].)
This map shows the area of conflict during the Crimean War. In crossing the Danube River on the western edge of the Black Sea and into Ottoman territory, the Russians had designs on moving south and taking over Constantinople to open up easy shipping lanes to the Mediterranean. When this plan was thwarted by the Turks, the theater of war shifted to the Crimea, the peninsula that sits at the northern part of the Black Sea.
|"A Consultation about the State of Turkey"|
John Leech. Cartoon. Punch. September 17, 1853.
France and England confer while the specter of Russia looms over the sick Sultan of Turkey in anticipation of the break up of the Ottoman Empire.
Czar Nicholas I
Czar Alexander II
|Alexander II, Emperor of Russia. |
The Illustrated London News. March 17, 1855.
This mounted portrait appeared in The Illustrated London News shortly after Czar Alexander II assumed the throne of Russia.
|"The Young Czar Coming into his Property"|
John Tenniel. Cartoon. Punch. March 17, 1855.
After Czar Nicholas I died on March 2, 1855, his son, Alexander II, succeeded him on the throne. Here Alexander is shown inheriting the war started by his father.
|"Turkey in Danger"|
John Tenniel. Cartoon. Punch. April 9, 1853.
The Russian Bear in both images is shown threatening Turkey during the dispute over the guardianship of the Holy Places.
|“David and Goliath.”|
Honoré Daumier. Actualités, no. 77. Le Charivari. July 5, 1854. LD 2521.
Czar Nicholas I (Goliath) takes on the Turkish Empire (David).
|"The Giant and the Dwarf"|
John Tenniel. Cartoon. Punch. August 5, 1854.
The Allied Army of France and Great Britain (the Giant) urges Turkey (The Dwarf) to continue fighting, given its success against the Russian Army in the Danubian Principalities.
The Russian Cossacks
|"Cossack of the Don."|
The Illustrated London News. February 11, 1854.