Marianne in the World War One Poster

October 25, 2012 § 2 Comments

Real, Inspired and Allegorical Figures in Poster Art

Poster art often features the human figure.  In many cases, the figure is solely an illustration conjured from the imagination of the artist.

cognac briand, vintage european poster, original poster

Stephane, Cognac Briand, c. 1925

In some instances, the figure is modeled after a real person such as in The Lefevre-Utile ‘LU’ Biscuits poster by David Lance Goines. This image was inspired by Ginger LeFevre, a descendant of the famous cookie family, and Goines shows the little girl reaching for a cookie jar. Likewise, Firmin Bouisset, used his children as models for many of his posters.

goines, bouisset, vintage european posters, original posters

Left: Goines, Lu Biscuit Right: Bouisset, Maggi

Sometimes posters feature allegorical figures. Like the advertising posters which came before them, posters from the First World War were designed to motivate the viewer to enlist in the army, or to buy a war bond.  They also had a secondary imperative: to inspire the viewer.  In fact, in the United States, posters were part of a campaign of salesmanship to get the American public behind the war.  American Posters used figures like Uncle Sam, Columbia, and Lady Liberty allegorically.  French Bond Posters used Marianne.

Marianne, french coin, symbol of france

Silver coin featuring Marianne

Marianne is the personification of the Republique Francaise and a symbol of liberty and freedom.  Images of Marianne first appear in 1775 and depict her standing, young and determined, sometimes bare breasted as she leads soldiers into battle.  Her image is allegorical, and is inspired by another allegorical figure, that of Athena, Greek goddess of wisdom and war.

The figure was used on the French postage stamp in 1849, and also on the franc.  Today she appears on the French Euro coin.  We encounter Marianne occasionally in the advertising poster.

saponite, vintage european poster

Advertising poster for Saponite Laundry Soap, featuring Marianne berating a seated Napoleon

She is, however, best enjoyed in the poster in French World War One Bond and Reconstruction posters.

Souscrivez Pour La Victoire, Butz, vintage european poster

M. Richard Butz, Souscrivez Pour la Victoire, 1916

In this poster,  created early in the war, a fierce Marianne flies over a battlefield littered with dead soldiers.  Behind her, soldiers march triumphantly.  After one and a half years of brutal battles and many losses, France needed such imagery to stay the course.

credit nationale, vintage european poster, wwi poster

Lelong, Credit Nationale, 1920

This reconstruction poster by Rene Lelong features Marianne in red wearing laurels of victory.  She smites a battleaxe turning her blade in for a plough.  The poster is populated with a blacksmith, a teacher, and a farmer, suggesting that France will enjoy a renaissance in construction, culture, and agriculture when the bond is sold successfully.

emprunt national, wwi poster, vintage european poster

Droit, Emprunt National, 1920

This beautiful and peaceful image by Lt. Jean Droit shows Marianne steering a boat,  representing commerce, import, and export, through calm waters.  In this image, she wears the Phrygian cap, an ancient symbol of freedom and liberty, which is a typical feature of her garb.

If you visit Paris, keep an eye out for Marianne.  If you know what to look for, you will no doubt spot her.  Here she is at Place de Nation in Paris.

marianne, french allegory

Marianne at Place de Nation

This noble Marianne statue was created by Aime Jules Dalou in 1899, and it is a strong image of history and inspiration.  Although Marianne never lived, her iconic image has left an imprint in France for over a period of almost 225 years.  We feel we know her, we feel we have seen her before, and that we can relate to her.  I guess that is exactly what a good allegory is designed to do.

This post was written by Elizabeth Norris, Owner Vintage European Posters and edited by Emily Jackson, UC Berkeley Art History Student and Gallery Assistant,

Vintage European Posters was established in 1997. We are the West Coast’s Largest Dealer in Original Vintage Posters from France and the United States. See us online anytime at and at our Berkeley Showroom OUTPOST 2201 Fourth Street, Tuesdays and Thursdays

As well as at pop up open weekends (sign our mailing list to receive updates about pop-ups)

We will be exhibiting our posters at the Fall Hillsborough Antiques Show November 2-4


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