Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Crimean War in the French and British satirical press

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 PunchThe 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.
“Parisians Busy Studying the Turkish Question.”
Honoré Daumier. Actualités, no. 44. Le Charivari. August 4, 1853. LD 2370.
The Russian army crossed the Pruth River on July 3, 1853 and occupied Bucharest by July 15, bringing the Danubian Principalities under Russian control. The French press relentlessly reported on these events and the threat of war.
"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
Nicholas, ‘Autocrat of All the Russians’
From M. Demidoff’s ‘Travels in Southern Russia and the Crimea.’ The Illustrated London News. August 6, 1853.
This formal portrait provides a sharp contrast to the way Czar Nicholas I was depicted in the satirical press.

“Emperor Nicholas working in his cabinet room.” 
Honoré Daumier. Actualités, no. 94. 
Le Charivari. August 8, 1850. LD 1999. 
Trampling on a map of France in his war room, Czar Nicholas I of Russia brandishes his sword and loses his hat while a Cossack looks on, his spear pointed at France. The Czar conducted an often openly hostile relationship with France.

"Pet of the Manchester School"
John Tenniel. Cartoon. Punch. April 15, 1854.
Richard Cobden, a leading supporter of the Peace Society, and John Bright, a Quaker and member of Parliament, both openly opposed war with Russia. These two politicians from Manchester are shown facilitating a tantrum by Czar Nicholas I and his attempts to destroy the Turkish Empire.

“Te Deum [laudamus]” (We praise Thee, O God)
[A traditional Christian hymn of joy and thanksgiving.]
John Leech. Cartoon. Punch. January 28, 1854.
Russia, purportedly representing the interests of the Greek Orthodox Church, sought to serve as the protectorate of the Christian Holy Places lying within Turkish territory. The general opinion in Europe was that Czar Nicholas I used Turkey’s refusal to grant Russia this privilege as a pretext to carry out his true desire, namely to destroy the Ottoman Empire. This view informs the depiction of Czar Nicholas I as a devil figure within a religious setting. Note the cloven hoof in place of his left foot.

“THE TEMPTER: If you consent to being mine, that empire will be yours.”
Honoré Daumier. Actualités, no. 40. Le Charivari. April 26, 1854. LD 2494.
Traditional allies of Russia stayed out of the war, leaving Russia isolated. Daumier here draws upon the iconography of the Temptation of Christ: Nicholas I as the Devil tempts the Greek king, Otto I, to enter the war with the prize of Constantinople and a revival of the Byzantine Empire in a conquered Turkey.

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.
“They say that I will soon be reduced to exchanging my crown for a simple hat!”
Honoré Daumier. Actualités, no. 249. Le Charivari. December 1, 1855. LD 2554.
Czar Alexander I contemplates his possible fate after the Russians suffer severe losses on the battlefield.
“THE CZAR AT SEVASTOPOL: It’s vexing—they know that I don’t like the tricolor flag, yet they have put it everywhere!” 
Honoré Daumier. Actualités, no. 251. Le Charivari. December 29, 1855. LD 2558.
The Russians lost Sebastopol to the Allied Army on September 11, 1855. A frustrated Czar Alexander II looks over the Russian naval port, only to see it occupied by the French.
Turkey and the Russian Bear
“The Northern Bear, the Most Disagreeable of All the Known Bears.”
Honoré Daumier. Actualités, no. 36; Chargeons les Russes (Let’s Make Caricatures of the Russians), no. 10. Le Charivari. April 17–18, 1854. LD 2493.
The bellicose Russian Bear as an autocrat with all of its subjects kneeling at its feet.
"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. 
"Paws Off, Bruin!"
John Tenniel. Cartoon/Initial. Punch. June 4, 1853.
The Russian Bear in both images is shown threatening Turkey during the dispute over the guardianship of the Holy Places. Note the British Lion lounging in the background of the Initial, “T.”
"The Bear and the Bees--A New Version of an Old Story"
John Tenniel. Cartoon. Punch. July 16, 1853.
This print plays on an old folktale where a bear threatens to use his great strength against a hive of bees if they do not give him free honey. The bees refuse, and when the bear sticks his tongue in the hive to take the honey by force, the bees attack him, and their combined stings make the bear run away. Here, the Turks play the role of the bees—with their mosques resembling beehives—in beating back the advances of the Russian army on Turkish territory.
“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.
"A Good Joke"
John Tenniel. Cartoon. Punch. July 23, 1853.
A heavily armed Russian Cossack soldier threateningly mocks a diminutive Turk, with French and British sailors standing in support behind him. After Russia invaded the Danubian Principalities, British and French fleets were positioned to aid Turkey in the event of war.
“Method for training the Cossacks.”
Honoré Daumier. Actualités, no. 28; Les Cosaques pour rire (Laughing at the Cossacks), no. 16. Le Charivari. April 4, 1854. LD 2479.

With tensions between France and Russia running high, an old wives’ tale that Cossacks subsisted on candles surfaced, which Daumier played to the hilt with caricatures of uncouth, candle-eating Cossacks dominating several of his lithographs. Here, the Cossacks’ supposed hunger for candles spurs them on during a military training session.
“Distribution of one day’s worth of extra rations.”
Honoré Daumier. Actualités, no. 34; Les Cosaques pour rire (Laughing at the Cossacks), no. 20. Le Charivari. April 13, 1854. LD 2481.
The box in the background reads, “Top Quality Lampions”—flat, plate-shaped iron vessels filled with oil and wicks, perhaps booty from the conquered Danubian Principalities. The Cossack in the middle is licking his normal meal of candles, while his cohort on the right is salivating over his bonus lampion. Note the Cossack sitting in the background licking a lampion as if it were a plate or shallow bowl.
Negotiating the Peace
"The Split Crown in the Crimea"
John Leech. Cartoon. Punch. September 29, 1855.
After a year-long siege by the French and British armies, the Russians abandoned the naval port of Sebastopol on September 11, 1855. Here, two allied soldiers have the Russian split crow wounded and on the run.
“Between war and peace.”
Honoré Daumier. Actualités, no. 256. Le Charivari. December 29, 1855. LD 2733.
Czar Alexander II stands between a soldier who wants war and a politician who wants peace. The Treaty of Paris, then in discussion, would bring an end to the Crimean War.
John Leech. Cartoon. Punch. January 26, 1856.
Czar Alexander II offers olive branches to French and British commanders, who are skeptical, given Russia’s expansionist tendencies. Nonetheless, the Treaty of Paris was signed on March 30, 1856. The Treaty lacked any mention of the Holy Places, which originally served as the supposed rationale for the war.

War's Aftermath
"Grand Military Spectacle"
John Leech. Cartoon. Punch. November 3, 1855.
The British supply chain broke down during the winter of 1855/1856, creating appalling conditions for the soldiers on the field and in hospitals, while many British officers sought shelter in their yachts. The situation was immediately reported in the press and led to public outcry over the bungled military operations. Here, in a reversal of celebratory protocol, soldiers returning from the war—many injured—inspect the field-marshals, who appear none the worse for wear.
"Piping Time of Peace"
John Leech. Cartoon. Punch. April 5, 1856.
These two cartoons lampoon the use of ceremonial bagpipes to welcome soldiers returning home from the war. In the image on the right, a soldier ties squealing pigs to himself before attending a ceremony to help him adjust to the noise of the bagpipes.
"A Real Soldier"
John Leech. Cartoon. Punch. April 5, 1856.
These two cartoons lampoon the use of ceremonial bagpipes to welcome soldiers returning home from the war. In the image on the right, a soldier ties squealing pigs to himself before attending a ceremony to help him adjust to the noise of the bagpipes.
“Saint Mitrophan and the God Mars Resting from the Fatigues of War.”
Honoré Daumier. Actualités, no. 272. Le Charivari. February 9, 1856. LD 2563.
St. Mitrophan of Voronezh (one of the Russian protector saints) and Mars (the god of war), exhausted from battle, rest on some clouds during the negotiation of the Treaty of Paris.