From the category archives:

French

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the massive strikes and demonstrations held in Paris and across France in May 1968. To this day, “May 68” is considered to be a cultural, social, and moral turning point in the history of France, and the events of that time had a resounding impact which was felt for decades afterwards.

Students in France were critical of the country’s outdated university system and dissatisfied with the lack of employment opportunities for recent graduates. Sporadic demonstrations for education reform began earlier in 1968, but on May 3rd a massive protest at the Sorbonne in Paris had to be broken up by the police, resulting in hundreds of arrests and dozens of injuries.

Following the protest, the Sorbonne was closed and classes cancelled, and students took to the streets surrounding the university (in Paris’s Latin Quarter) to continue their demonstrations. On May 6th, the Union National des Étudiants de France (UNEF) organized a march of more than 20,000 students, teachers, and their supporters. Protesters created barricades against the police charging with their batons, paving stones were hurled, and tear gas administered. According to estimates, over 500 protesters were arrested and 350 protesters and police injured.

On the night of May 10th, students set up barricades in the Latin Quarter and rioted, ending with close to 400 people in the hospital, more than half of which were police officers. Students called for radical changes to take place, and union leaders started planning strikes in support. In an attempt to defuse the crisis, Prime Minister Pompidou announced that the Sorbonne would reopen on May 13th.

Instead, on the 13th, students occupied the Sorbonne, turning it into a commune. Students and workers protested together in the streets, organized by the Confédération Générale du Travail (CGT) and the Fource Ouvriére (CGT-FO), with estimates counting over a million marchers that day. Over the next several days things escalated dramatically. Strikes spread to other universities in France as well as labor unions, and by the end of the month a massive widespread strike had extended to factories and industries across France, shutting down newspaper distribution, air transport, and two major railroads. Millions of workers were on strike, up to 22% of the population of France at the time, and the country seemed to be on the brink of revolution.

On the night of May 24th, the worst fighting occurred. Students temporarily seized the Paris Stock Exchange, raised a communist flag, and tried to set it on fire. One policeman died during the riots. Over the next few days, Prime Minister Pompidou attempted to negotiate with union leaders but failed to end the strike. The most radical students called for revolution with a meeting of the UNEF on May 27th which gathered 30,000 to 50,000 people at Stade Sebastien Charlety. They wanted the government overthrown, but their radical demands lost the support of the union leaders.

On May 30th, President de Gaulle announced that he was dissolving the National Assembly and would be holding elections. His appeal for a return to law and order gained the support of the middle class, and the labor strikes were abandoned. Student protests continued until June 12, when protests were banned. Two days later, the students were evicted from the Sorbonne. Elections were held over two rounds at the end of June, and the Gaullists won a commanding majority. Concessions were made to the protesters, including higher wages and improved working conditions for laborers, and an education reform bill was passed to help modernize the French university system.

F.A. Bernett currently has in its inventory two items dating from this period of upheaval and important change in Paris.

(Paris ’68)Collection of Leaflets Related to the 1968 Unrest in Paris. Group of approximately 200 original leaflets regarding the events of May 1968 in Paris, all originating from the “Press Office” located at the Sorbonne, dated from May and June 1968, most issued by the Comite d’Action Ouvriers Etudiants, primarily typed documents in French, some printed, including notices to their comrades and fellow students, memos, declarations, calls to action, notes on press conferences, and others, a few with cartoons or other drawings, some with ink or marker notations, overall excellent. Various sizes, mostly 4to. Sheets loose as issued, housed in an archival box. Paris 1968. (48892)

Action. Nos. 1 through 47 (7 May 1968- 3 June 1969) (all published). A complete run of 49 issues (including 2 unnumbered issues between nos. 38 and 39) of this panoramic documentation of the 1968 uprisings (issues ranging from 2 to 8 pp.), which covered events in the tumultuous year both in France and internationally with emphasis on happenings in Paris, including a wide range of articles, essays, reviews, etc., accompanied by a plethora of illustrations, including drawings, cartoons, caricatures, photographs, posters, etc. Nos. 4-20 and 23-41 large folio; nos. 1-3, 21-22, and 42-47 folio. Wrpps., all covers illustrated. Paris 1968-1969. (47080)

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The Crimean War broke out on October 16, 1853 and lasted until early 1856, and was fought initially over the rights of Christian minorities in the Holy Land, which was under the domain of the Ottoman Empire. On one side was the Ottoman Empire allied with Britain, Sardinia, and France, who favored the rights of Roman Catholics. On the other (losing) side was Russia, which favored the Eastern Orthodox Church. While the churches worked out their differences and came to a mutually satisfying agreement, Nicholas I of Russia and Emperor Napoleon III of France both refused to budge. Nicholas issued an ultimatum that the Orthodox subjects of the Empire be placed under his protection. Britain attempted to mediate and managed to arrange a compromise that Nicholas agreed to. However, when the Empire demanded additional changes, Nicholas refused and prepared for war. With the support of France and Britain, the Ottomans declared war on Russia in October 1853.

The war began in the Balkans but battles were carried out at the Black Sea, the Baltic Sea, the Caucasus, the White Sea, and in the North Pacific. Eventually neutral countries began to join the alliance. Isolated and facing invasion from the west if the war went on, Russia sued for peace in March 1856. The war ended with the Treaty of Paris, signed on March 30. As a result, the Black Sea became neutral territory with warships and fortifications completely prohibited, which was a major setback to Russian influence in the region. The Ottoman vassal states of Wallachia and Moldavia became largely independent with Christians granted official equality, and the Orthodox Church regained control of the Christian churches in dispute.

The Battle of Kil-Bouroun (Kinburn) was one of many battles fought during the three years of the Crimean War.  Staged at the tip of the peninsula of Kinburn on the south bank of the Dnieper River near the Crimea, it was the site of an attack by the French and British navies on the Russian outpost there during the final phase of the war. On October 17, 1855, France and Britain attacked the outpost with a fleet of ironclad ships, destroying the fortifications within mere hours and suffering almost no damage. This decisive battle helped to signify the decline of the traditional wooden warship.

F.A. Bernett Books currently has in its inventory a scarce and fascinating portfolio of lithographs commemorating this wintry naval battle, with large and detailed depictions of the ships and the ruined fortifications.

Paris, (François-Edmond). Nos Souvenirs de Kil-Bouroun Pendant l’Hiver Passé Dans le Liman du Dnieper, 1855-1856. A beautiful and rare album comprising title page, a map showing the location of the naval battle of Kil-Bouroun (Kinburn), and 15 chromolithographic plates depicting mostly maritime scenes after the battle along the ice-bound Dnieper River, including inside the fort, disembarking onto the ice, and ruined fortifications, lithographed and colored by Eugene Ciceri and Adolphe Bayot, the ships drawn by Antoine Léon Morel-Fatio, after drawings by Paris. Some details appear to be hand-colored. Some scattered foxing, small stain to inside front cover, a few small tears along binding, spine very slightly shaken. Folio. Full leather, raised spine. Paris (Arthus-Bertrand/Becquet Freres) n.d. (circa 1856). Very scarce; as of October 2017, WorldCat locates only two holdings in North America of this suite. 48752

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“It is a riot, a revival of paganism…It is also, in its way, a hymn to beauty, a living explosion of the senses and of the emotions.” – E. Berry Wall, Neither Past Nor Puritan

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In 1892, Henri Guillaume, Professor of Architecture at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris, proposed that the students of the school’s four disciplines – architecture, painting, sculpture, and engraving – put on a joint costume ball. He envisioned a lavish room decorated by the students and ornate processions, inspired by a pre-existing culture of balls and costume parties in turn-of-the-century Paris, including the Bal Blanc, la Fête Païenne, the Bal des Incohérents, and the Bal Rodolphe.

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The first ball was organized by a joint committee of art students together with writers and artists living in Montmartre and Montparnasse. It was held at the old Élysée Montmartre, a Parisian concert hall and host to many cabarets and costume balls. Admission to the festivities was by invitation only, and the ball was an immediate success. The following year, it was decided that attendance to the ball would be restricted to students and former students of the École, as well as “artistic personalities” who had contributed to the preparation of the ball. It became an annual affair, running virtually uninterrupted each summer through 1966. (No parties were held during the war years, from 1915 to 1919 and from 1940 to 1945.) The balls were held in several major venues scattered throughout Paris over the years, with most taking place at the Moulin Rouge, the Salle Wagram, and the Parc des Expositions Porte de Versailles.

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Although in its early years the ball was simply an elaborate party, beginning in 1900 each ball had a specific historic theme, often derived from an ancient text or inspired by an “exotic” foreign culture, around which various contests were arranged. Once the organizing committee and workshop students came up with the theme, students from the workshops, either individually or in groups, built floats for the entrance procession as well as a loge which surrounded the central dance floor to house tableaux from the chosen theme or time period, which would be acted out as the voting Committee passed by. Prizes were awarded for the best costumes.

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The balls were elaborate and debaucherous, romping affairs. According to the invitations, which read “Le comite sera impitoyable pour tout costume qui ne serait pas de l’epoque,” attendees were required to attend in period costume; yet the costumes were often shed at some point during the festivities. The doors opened at 10 PM, and no further entrances were allowed after midnight. However, the dancing and merrymaking often continued into the wee hours, usually devolving into drunken revelry and nudity. The dancing frequently ended with a shout of “Vive les Quat’z’ Arts!” around seven o’clock in the morning, followed by a procession through the Latin Quarter, a romp around the Louvre, and a march over the Pont du Carrousel to the Théâtre de l’Odéon, where the partygoers would disband.

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In July 1946, an article was published in Life Magazine by an American journalist, Bernard Frizell, who “crashed” that year’s party. He described the event as an orgy, the female attendees initially “dressed in such a way that more was revealed than hidden”, but by midnight, under pounding music and flashing lights, with hours of revelry still to come, “a number of the girls had lost their upper garments.” Around 1 am he describes the grand procession, that year with the theme of Agamemnon’s victory over Troy: “The orchestra, playing the march from Aida, led the parade of the victors around the room. Then the committee encircled the room to judge the best galley…On the mast of one of the galleys appeared a girl, her magnificent body completely nude. A long cheer went up. Out of the ship marched the students of the atelier. Upon the Wall of Troy a series of contests began….A prize was given for the best male costume and the best couple’s costume. Then came the feminine beauty contest. The girls had to appear without clothes.”

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The Bal des Quat’z’ Arts quickly became one of the premier events of the summer season, and many Parisians desired to attend one of the raucous parties. However, admission was carefully restricted to students of the École and contributing artists, and to gain entrance to the ball each attendee had to surrender their personal invitation at the door, which bore not only their name but also the stamp of the École or atelier they belonged to and the signatures of the Bal’s organizing committee. These invitations were in turn elaborately designed to match the spectacle of the events, and correspondingly were often thematically orientalist, exotic, or primitive, with overtly erotic and sexual imagery. They are a tour de force of the evolution of artistic style, showing the progress from Art Nouveau to modernist primitivism, up through psychedelic design. Almost every invitation bears the warning “Le nu est rigoureusement interdit,” later changed to the more formal “Le comite decline sa responsabilite des pour suites que pourrait entrainer l’exhibition du nu sur la voie publique,” instructions which were presumably expected to be ignored.

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In 1967, the chosen theme was to be the “Tour de Nesle,” but the ball never occurred due to failure to secure a location. And in May of 1968, student strikes at the Sorbonne led to the separation of the architecture department from the École, as well as the end of the Bal des Quat’z’Arts.

F.A. Bernett currently has a remarkable collection of these striking invitations, the themes of which include Ancient Egypt, the Middle Ages, the entrance of Perseus into Athens, Carthage, Babylon, the Incas, the Vikings, the Aztecs, Samurai, and the sack of Rome.

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Bal des Quat’z’Arts.- . Collection of 61 Invitation Cards to the Bal des Quat’z’Arts, Paris, 1907-1966. 61 invitation cards and posters of various sizes, ranging from approx. 6″ x 6″ to 15 3/4″ x 11 13/16″, to the notorious annual costume ball (1892-1966) produced by and for students from the four divisions of the École Nationale des Beaux-Arts de Paris (Architecture, Painting, Sculpture, and Engraving), each lavishly illustrated by an artist or master from one of the ateliers with a representation of the year’s unique theme, most exotic and suggestive interpretations of historical, literary or foreign sources. Depicting decorative and figurative scenes, involving various artistic printmaking techniques including etching, engraving, letterpress, embossing, all in color, some folding, most with original perforated ticket coupons attached. Paris (Bal des Quat’z’Arts) 1907-1966. (47826)

 

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The École de Montmartre in 1920’s Paris

August 17, 2015

              Paris in the late 19th and early 20th century, especially during the periods known as the Belle Époque and les Années Folles, was a hotbed of intellectual and artistic life. During the former, Montmartre was abuzz with cafés, cabarets, and artists’ studios, with a large number of painters […]

Charlie Hebdo’s Ancestors

January 23, 2015

  Journalism in France has a rich tradition of political satire and caricature, dating back many hundreds of years and gaining footholds at many crucial moments in France’s history. Popular in the 17th century, Molière and Jean de la Fontaine earned their fame mocking the upper echelons of society through comic plays or fables, often […]

Soucoupes Volantes Viennent d’Autres Mondes.

Thumbnail image for Soucoupes Volantes Viennent d’Autres Mondes. August 15, 2013

Collection of 20 titles, ca. 50-300 pp. each. Paris / Geneva / Moscow, 1897-1973, offered with Inforespace. Cosmologie Phénomènes Spatiaux Primhistoire. Revue Bimestrielle. Nos. 1 (1972) – 67, 69 – 71, 73 & 75, incl. the “hors serie” December annuals nos. 1 (1977) – 8 (1984). Altogether 80 issues comprising a 17-year head-of-series run of […]

Dreaming in Dirigibles: The Airship Postcard Albums of Lord Ventry.

Thumbnail image for Dreaming in Dirigibles: The Airship Postcard Albums of Lord Ventry. July 26, 2012

Collection of 548 postcard prints and original photographs depicting airships, dirigibles and zeppelins, ca. 1890 to 1960. Most images 3 x 5 in. or 4 x 6 in., housed in period 4to and tall 4to boards albums, one with spine partially detached.  N.p (United Kingdom?), N.d. (ca. 1890 to 1960).  (47267) The golden age of […]