World War I Charity Exhibitions
The Documenting the Gilded Age project digitized two catalogs for charity exhibitions held to raise relief funds for the French during WWI. One exhibition was organized for the families of French soldier artists, and the other was organized for the French Red Cross (see illustrations).
The first exhibition held in January 1916 in the Ritz Carlton Ballroom, New York, was arranged through the Ministry of Fine Arts and La Fraternité des Artistes, Paris, for the Fund for the Families of French Soldier-Artists (see illustrations). Its focus was the immediate giving of aid. Members of the Fraternité des Artistes sent works to America to be shown. The proceeds from the exhibitions were donated to the families of French artists who were fighting in the war. The choice to aid the families of artists, rather than other soldiers, was stated in one of the catalog essays as having been made because of the artistic and intellectual debt American artists felt they owed to France (see illustration).
Several of the essays in the catalog for the exhibition detail the debt America owes to France, both politically and intellectually, with one of the essays titled ‘What We Owe To France” and ending with a quotation of the first toast of the Alliance in 1774, "To America! To France! To General Washington and to the American Army, to the Independence of America! To the Alliance of France and America! May it never be broken!," (see illustration). As the art critic William A. Coffin said in one of the catalog essays, “We feel certain that the opportunity to see this notable collection of contemporary French art, which, apart from its artistic interest, affords evidence of recognition for brotherly aid in time of stress, will appeal to all those who love art and to all whose love of liberty inspires them to admiration for the people of France in the great crisis which has overwhelmed the world,” (see illustration).
The centerpiece of the exhibition was an allegorical work by Paul-Albert Besnard symbolizing Peace, which was intended for the Peace Palace at The Hague and loaned by the French Government for the purpose of the exhibition (see illustration). Besnard was a celebrated French artist who had a very successful career, with one of the highlights being the Director of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts.
The section of the January 1916 catalog written by Joseph H. Choate, an American diplomat and great supporter of the Allies, states that “it may seem incongruous…in the midst of this horrible war…to study, or exhibit, pictures of ‘Peace,’ but this war will not last forever,” and that “Besnard’s famous picture will help very much to enlist the sympathies of all who see it for the hopelessly wounded and for the widows and children of those who have fallen in battle,” (see illustration).
The second exhibition was held in November 1916 and was comprised of Louis Raemakers’s cartoons in aid of the French Red Cross. It was organized by J. Murray Allison, an Englishman, and held at the galleries of White, Allom & Co., New York (see illustration). Raemakers was a Dutch cartoonist whose works appeared regularly in the National Tidende, one of the leading Dutch newspapers, and whose caricatures of the German Kaiser and army were considered one of the most dangerous weapons against the Germans during WWI. He was considered such a threat that Germany put a price on his head so large he was forced to flee (Louis Raemaekers). The Westminster Gazette described him as a “genius” and “our friend and most powerful ally”, stating that “long after the leading and ‘leaded’ articles in the papers have been forgotten…the cartoons of Mr Raemakers will live to feed the fiery indignation of succeeding generations…Louis Raemakers has nailed the Kaiser to a cross of immortal infamy,” (Page and Page, 537).
The exhibition to which the catalog belongs is one of a series. Raemakers’s cartoons were distributed all around the world through large galleries and exhibitions, as well as in small privately owned venues. In May 1916, the use of his cartoons as Ally propaganda in America was proposed, chiefly through exhibitions such as this one but also as books, postcards, cinema films, and through the syndication of new cartoons. Mr. J. Murray Allison, then publisher of the periodical Land and Water and Raemakers’s agent, was chosen to introduce the cartoons to America. At first, it was difficult for Allison to make headway against pro-German pressure groups, but by 1917 exhibitions had been extended throughout the country and in most major cities (Ranitz and Dewilde, 40).
Page, Walter Hines and Arthur Wilson Page. The World’s Work: A History of Our Time, Volume 31, November 1915 to April 1916. New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1916. Google Books. Web. 31 Jul 2012. <http://books.google.com/books?id=09_Sr9emceQC&dq>
Ranitz, Ariane de and Jan Dewilde. Louis Raemaekers 1869–1956: Oorlogsgetuige 1914–1918. Leper: In Flanders Fields Museum, 2009. Print.