Touring French History Through Political Cartoons

Source: Library of Congress
By Barbara Orbach Natanson

The following is a guest post by Woody Woodis, Cataloger, Prints and Photographs Division

Pariser poisarden. Aquatint and etching by C. Katz, 1794

In honor of Bastille Day, or La Fête Nationale, marking the beginning of the French Revolution, we feature highlights from the French Political Cartoon Collection. This small but exemplary collection of 365 prints spans almost two centuries and touches on every aspect of French political culture from Louis XIV, known as the Sun King, to Napoleon III, the last emperor to rule France.

The Library of Congress obtained the prints from a variety of sources; many came as part of a substantial purchase of the Windsor Library collection in 1926.

Suggesting the conditions the led to revolution, Calendrier royal indiquant le cours du soleil (1706) shows Louis XIV sitting on a crude throne at the center of the sun whose rays are filled with text that often present the low-lights of his reign; in the upper left corner, reference to the eclipse of 1705 further casts a shadow on the dimming light of the Sun King’s final years.

Commemorating the storming of the Bastille in July 1789, Adieu Bastille (ca. 1789) presents the rise of the peasantry as an enormous, imposing figure who treats the aristocracy and the clergy as figures in a child’s game, while in the background,  workers dismantle the Bastille.

Pariser Poisarden (ca. 1794) illustrates the role of women during the insurrectionary days of the French Revolution.

In France, censorship of the press was a major issue throughout the
19th century.

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