By Robert J. Goldstein

As already mentioned with regard to France and Russia, offending caricature journals were often suppressed and their artists and staff often prosecuted and jailed. This was also true in other European regimes: thus, in an especially infamous case, Simplicissimus caricaturist Heine, along with two other staff members, were sentenced to six month jail terms for an 1898 cartoon which ridiculed Emperor Wilhelm II. As with the “Impudent Albion” incident in France, the primary result of the prosecution was to increase demand for the journal: one staff member wrote that after the prosecution “our circulation rose within four or five weeks from 15,000 to, I think, 85,000.” Similarly, a Munich official advised in 1903 against prosecutions which “could only serve as an advertisement for Simplicissimus,” apparently keeping in mind a “successful” prosecution which had yield a small fine against Heine and another staff member, as well as the court-ordered destruction of all confiscated copies--which turned out to total less than 1,500 of a total press run of 80,000! In other German cases, the director of the Hamburg journal Die Reform was jailed for 40 days for an 1849 drawing depicting “democrats” decorating Christmas trees with ornamental puppets of German princes, the Munich journal Leuchkugeln was forced to close in 1851 following repeated prosecutions and the Hamburg journal Mephistopheles (which had been revived during the 1848 revolution after being suppressed in 1847), was prosecuted and suppressed for an 1852 depiction of Napoleon I caning his nephew, then-French president Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, for the latter’s imperial pretensions. Already by 1849 the post-1848 German caricature holocaust was so severe that one of the survivors, the journal Kladderadatsch published a drawing depicting its iconic representation visiting a graveyard for satirical journals; the following year two of its editors were jailed for criticizing the Russian tsar, and the journal was confiscated almost a dozen times during the 1860s and its editors were jailed in 1877 and again in 1897. In Italy, the leading socialist caricaturist Guiseppe Scalarini was prosecuted at least three times for his drawings between 1898 and 1914.[1]

As with the Prussian abolition and then re-instatement of caricature censorship between 1840 and 1843 and the repeated elimination and re-introduction of such controls in France in reflection of broader political currents, all major European countries witnessed similar developments at least once: in Germany, the Hapsburg Empire and Italy, as a result of the temporary success of the 1848 revolutions, and in Russia due to the essential collapse of the regime for a period during the 1905 revolution, caricature censorship was either formally or effectively abolished, but, in each case, it was re-imposed after the regimes regained control (one exception was the Italian state of Piedmont [Sardinia], which continued to allow freedom of caricature after 1848 and then extended this to the rest of Italy after the other Italian states joined Piedmont to form a re-united Italy between 1860 and 1870).[2]

That controls over caricature drastically affected all aspects of caricature production was clearly evident in such circumstances: in each case, the collapse or end of caricature censorship was accompanied by an explosion of caricature journals, and in each case the re-imposition of controls was accompanied by a massive suppression and/or collapse of the offending journals. Thus, in Germany, according to scholar William Coupe, the caricature business developed from “virtually nothing” to a “minor industry in a matter of weeks” in 1848, with 35 illustrated satirical journals founded in Berlin alone, but following the suppression of the revolution most German caricature journals reversted in the 1850s “to the status of innocuous joke books, more concerns with mothers-in-law and drunks than political issues.”[3]

In Russia, whereas fewer than 100 caricature journals had been published during the entire 1815-1905 period, with the collapse of censorship amidst the 1905 revolution perhaps 500 such journals erupted (including 50 in Yiddish and 20 in Ukrainian), some of them crude leaflets of a few pages which had brief lives (sometimes due to government suppression), but many of which were sophisticated journals of high artistic quality. The newly-freed journals often featured brutal pictorial attacks upon the notoriously repressive regime of Tsar Nicholas II, as was reflected in the comment of the first issue of the journal Payats (Clown) in December 1905, which declared, “Now that we have the right to laugh, we’re going to laugh boldly, loudly and mercilessly.” But, as was the case with more than a dozen of these journals, Payats was soon suppressed by the police, and in numerous instances their artists, editorial staffs and even their printers were jailed. Thus, the caricature journal Vampire, which was closed after nine issues, lamented in early 1906 that the true state of Russian civil liberties was that, “The press can publish what it wants and the police can ban what they want.” In perhaps the most notorious cases associated with the 1905 revolution, Pulemet (Machine-Gun) editor Nikolai Shebeuv was jailed for a year for “insulting his imperial majesty“ and his journal was suppressed for publishing a drawing depicting a bloody hand-print over Nicholas’s October 1905 so-called “Reform Manifesto” and the journal Bugbear was temporarily suppressed and a number of its contributors detained for publishing a drawing portraying a donkey surrounded by tsarist regalia. Artist Evgenii Lanser wrote to a friend about this incident :

You know about the extinction of “Bugbear,” the imprisonment of [editor and artist] Zinovii Gzhebin, the 16-hour imprisonment of [Isaac] Bilibin [the famous artist of the donkey print], the interrogation of [well-known artist Boris] Anisfeld and [artist Dimitri] Kadovsky and the closure of the press (now reopened). And all because of that donkey.[4]

No doubt the single most spectacular and politically significant governmental action directed against a caricature journal was the so-called “Cu-Cut! Incident” in Barcelona, the capital of the northeastern Spanish region of Catalonia, in November, 1905. Strict controls enforced preceding the passage of the 1883 liberal press law had largely suppressed Spanish caricature before then (in 1875, an American embassy official in Madrid reported that Spanish caricature had apparently been completely non-existent until the 1868 revolution, which was overturned a few years later, had briefly relaxed the press laws). After 1883, several Spanish journals emerged, of which the Barcelona journal Cu-Cut! was especially influential and beautifully produced. It had been prosecuted on several occasions before 1905 for its frequent attacks on the notoriously inept Spanish army, and that year it published a number of cartoons ridiculing the Army, such as a September 21, 1905 drawing portraying a Spanish officer reporting that after observing the 1905 Russo-Japanese War that he had learned only “what we knew already: how to lose battles.” On November 25, soldiers and local police, acting without either military or civilian authorization, ransacked the Cu-Cut! Offices, along with those of a leading Barcelona daily, in the process destroying furniture and printing presses and inflicting (mostly minor) sabre wounds on almost 50 civilians. The Cu-Cut! incident provoked a major political crisis, eventually leading the government to resign and its replacement to capitulate to military demands to make verbal and written attacks upon it subject to military jurisdiction and to implement martial law in Barcelona. According to historian Carolyn Boyd, the so-called “Law of Jurisdictions” was repeatedly used during the following 25 years to “stifle criticism of the military, not only in Catalonia but wherever it occurred,” thus creating a “permanent exception clause” to constitutional free speech guarantees. Even more significantly, the Cu-Cut! affair and its aftermath unquestionably helped to widen the divide between Spanish society and the military, further inflamed an already-blossoming Catalan regionalism and helped grease the skids towards the 1923 military takeover and, ultimately, the 1936 military uprising which buried Spanish democracy (which had been restored in 1931) for 40 years.[5]

One final similarity between French and other European nineteenth-century caricature censorship was that in both cases the censorship attracted repeated and thunderous denunciation, both in print and drawings, from those who were affected (and often stifled) by it. Caricature journals and their artists bitterly complained when they were subjected to stricter controls than the print press and about the arbitrary and thought-stifling nature of governmental controls. Thus, the French caricature journal Le Grelot asked, “By what right can one prevent the crayon from saying what the pen is allowed to?” (February 3, 1878) and lamented that censorship bans were made with “no trial, no conviction, just an order” of the interior minister (September 9, 1871) and that “what is forbidden today was authorized a week ago and perhaps will be allowed tomorrow” (March 10, 1872). Not surprisingly, caricaturists in France and elsewhere also repeatedly attacked their persecutors with drawings, which often were extremely similar from one country to the next (and clearly not only by chance: the Portuguese journal La Parodia published on March 2, 1906 a clearly plagiarized version of a caricature originally published in France by L’Eclipse on November 26, 1871, depicting an artist metaphorically shackled by the censorship by having to walk blind-folded through an egg-minefield of forbidden subjects and penalties). An 1898 Simplicissimus cartoon reacted to the Prussian’s government’s ban on its sales at state railway stations by portraying railroad officials holding a copy of the journal at arm’s length with a pair of tongs while it dripped blood, while French caricature journals repeatedly depicted government officials as wreaking all sorts of havoc upon them, such as cutting them to ribbons with scissors, shackling them with a ball and chain and smashing lithographic stones. Following his 1898 jail sentence, Simplicissimus caricaturist Heine drew a picture of himself shackled in jail to portray how he would “be doing my next drawing,” and French caricaturist Aristide Delannoy, in a drawing published in L’Assiette au Beurre in 1908, similarly depicted himself (along with his jailed editor) chained up in jail after receiving one-year prison terms for publishing a caricature of a French general as a bloody butcher for his role in the French conquest of Morocco.


How Nineteenth-Century French political caricature censorship differed from elsewhere in Europe

Most differences in nineteenth-century political caricature censorship between France and elsewhere in Europe were basically related to the facts that French caricature was a more common and prominent phenomenon than elsewhere, especially before 1848 (largely because, unlike any other major continental regime, French caricature periodically enjoyed freedom before then) and that, no doubt partly as a result, it was more artistically developed and therefore more powerful earlier than elsewhere. These developments made French caricature more politically powerful and controversial elsewhere than in Europe, and combined with the extraordinary level of French political instability, resulted in more frequent debates about caricature censorship and more frequent changes in the regulations than elsewhere, with the result, that, to a far greater degree than any other major European country, French caricature, as noted at the top of this essay, reflected with uncanny accuracy the nature of nineteenth-century French politics.

No doubt because, unlike any other major nineteenth-century European continental power, French caricature experienced several periods of freedom from prior censorship before 1848 (i.e., 1815-1822 and 1830-35), it obtained a “head start,” both in terms of quantity and quality, over other major European countries, which it never relinquished during the nineteenth century, and which made French caricature comparatively both more important and more subject both to the general attention of the ever-changing authorities and, especially, to repeated changes in regulatory procedures. A catalog of French caricatures journals (not all politically-oriented) published between 1860 and 1890 includes over 160 such periodicals; another such listing, covering the partly overlapping period of 1870-1940, includes over 300 caricature journals. Although, unfortunately, no comparable data appear to exist with regard to other major European countries, no one familiar with the literature could seriously doubt that the French figures far exceed those for other countries (with the sole exception of the above-discussed eruption of hundreds of often brief-lived caricature journals with the collapse of Russian censorship control during the 1905 revolution). One clear indication of how much more important caricature was in nineteenth-century France than in other comparable European powers is the amount of scholarly attention that has been devoted to it: a late October, 2008 search of the electronic data base “World Search,” a massive, multi-lingual combined catalog of holdings of thousands of (mostly college) libraries (primarily, but not only, in North America and western Europe), using the search terms “France,” “caricature” and “nineteenth-century” yielded over 700 entries (mostly books but also including audio-visual and other materials), almost five times as many as the other five leading continental European powers (Germany, Italy, Russia, Spain and Austria) combined. A 2008 French publication listing articles and books on the “satiric image,” which overwhelmingly concentrates on material about France, contains over 2100 French-language entries. So many caricature journals were published in nineteenth-century France that separate scholarly studies have appeared focusing solely on caricature in Lyon, Toulouse and Marseille, and between 2005 and 2008 alone about two dozen studies of nineteenth-century French caricature have appeared (a figure no doubt inflated by the ten or so books published in association with the 200th anniversary of Daumier’s birth, which was also the occasion for major exhibits at the French national library and other venues).[6]

But nineteenth-century French caricature not only exceeded that in other major continental European countries in quantity; before mid-century at least (when prior caricature censorship began to fade away elsewhere), French caricature unquestionably was, at least in general, of a better artistic quality and therefore probably packed more of an artistic punch. No caricatures published elsewhere in Europe before mid-century even came close to the full-blown artistic masterpieces of Daumier and other artists like Grandville that were regularly published, for example, in Philipon’s journals; indeed many, although certainly not all, caricatures published elsewhere before mid-century often include what appear, at least comparatively, more like stick-figures and/or only the basic outlines of characters and objects which are typical in modern American editorial cartoons.[7]

It was clearly the combination of both the numbers and the high artistic quality of French political caricature which made caricature censorship so frequent a subject of debate and regulation in nineteenth-century France; thus during the 1835 legislative debate, in clear reference to the “pear” caricatures produced or inspired by Philipon’s journals which proliferated all over Paris, Commerce Minister Paul Duchatel declared that “there is nothing more dangerous, gentlemen, than these infamous caricatures, these seditious designs,“ which “produce the most deadly effect.”[8] It was both the magnitude and perceived impact of nineteenth-century French political caricature, both of which were unparalleled elsewhere in Europe, combined with the similarly unparalleled extraordinary instability of French politics, that led to the repeated abolition and re-imposition of the caricature censorship, developments which were only faintly echoed in other European regimes, most of which went through this cycle only once (or in the case of Prussia, twice) instead of the four or five times experienced by France. It was precisely this repetitive cycle, plus the nature of censorship when it was enforced, that makes studying nineteenth-century French political caricature so revelatory and reflective about broader currents of French politics. But even if the lesser importance of political caricature elsewhere in nineteenth-century Europe made caricature censorship less frequently a subject of debate and changes in regulation, and its study as a result less important as a general indicator of broader political trends, examining political drawings in other countries can still pay high dividends: thus, Russian author Leo Tolstoy declared that “for the historian of the 22nd and 23rd centuries who describes the 19th century, [the German caricature journal] Simplicissimus will be the most valuable source, enabling him to become familiar not only with the state of our present-day society, but also to test the credibility of all other sources.”[9]


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[1]In general, see Robert Justin Goldstein, “The Prosecution and Jailing of Political Caricaturists in Nineteenth-Century Europe,” Media History (2003), 47-62. For the German material, Ute Harms, “La Caricature Politique à Hambourg autour de 1848,” in Regnier, is especially helpful; for Italy, see John Davis, “Italy,” in Robert Justin Goldstein, ed., The War for the Public: Political Censorship in Nineteenth-Century Europe (Praeger, 2000), 113.

[2]See Rosanna Maggio-Serra, “La Naissance de la Caricature de Presse en Italie et le Journal Tuinois, ‘Il Fischietto,” Histoire et Critique des Arts (1980), 135-58.

[3]William Coupe, “The German Cartoon and the Revolutions of 1848,” Comparative Studies in History and Society (1966-67); Coupe, German Political Satires from the Reformation to the Second World War, III (Kraus, 1987), ix.

[4]There is a massive literature on the 1905 Russian revolution and caricature, but by far the best introduction in English is the wonderfully illustrated volume by David King and Cathy Porter, Images of Revolution: Graphic Art from 1905 Russia (Pantheon, 1983).

[5]Joaquin Romero-Maura, The Spanish Army and Catalonia: The ‘Cu-Cut! Incident’ and the Law of Jurisdictions, 1905-06 (Sage, 1976); Boyd, Praetorian Politics in Liberal Spain (University North Carolina Press, 1979), 16.

[6]Philippe Jones, “La Presse Satirique Illustrée entre 1860 et 1890,” Etudes de Presse (1956) 7-13; Jacques Lethève, La Caricature et La Presse sous La IIIe République (Colin, 1959), 241-250; Helene Duccini, ed., Bibliographie française de l’image satirique (University of Western Brittany, 2008); Robert Rossi, L’Arme du Rire: La Presse satirique radicale è Marseille, 1871-1879 (Valeriano, 2004); Jacques Arlet, Les journo satiriques toulousains de la Belle Époque (Accord, 2007); La Presse Satirique à Lyon de 1865 a 1900 (Association des Amis du Musee de L’Imprimerie, 1991).

[7]See the sources cited in footnote 3, as well as Les Révolutions de 1848: L’Europe des images (French National Assembly,1998).

[8]AP (1898), 741.

[9]Steve Heller, “Simplicissimus,” Upper and Lower Case (1981), 16.

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