Caricatures of the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune (1870-71)

Caricatures of the
Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune
(1870-71)


at Cambridge University Library

Napoleon III and his son

Napoleon III and his son

2020-2021 marked the 150th anniversary of the Franco-Prussian war and the Paris Commune.


This was a time of major political changes and turbulences. Through their 19th-century struggle for European domination, France and Germany became modern nation-states. From military defeat (with the Fall of Napoleon III and the Second Empire) and civil war (under the Paris Commune), emerged the Third French Republic. Until 1870-71, Germany had been an idea, a language and a culture; in 1871 it became a nation-state under the rule of Kaiser Wilhelm I.

Emperor Wilhelm I © Cambridge University Library, CC BY-NC 3.0

Emperor Wilhelm I © Cambridge University Library, CC BY-NC 3.0

The 1870-71 caricatures are featuring in an upcoming exhibition at Cambridge University Library

The exhibition (we will announce the dates in the coming weeks), as well as the film below, shed light on the Library's remarkable collection, now fully digitised, of six large volumes of around 1100 caricatures, mostly produced during the two sieges of Paris and widely distributed as coloured lithographs.

The relaxation of censorship after the fall of the Second French Empire led to the flourishing of satirical drawings

They circulated in the illustrated press, were displayed in shop windows, pasted on the walls of Paris, or collected in albums.

Wilhelm I and Bismarck

Wilhelm I and Bismarck

The Cambridge prints were assembled in Paris shortly after the events, then brought to London, where several sets entitled "Collection de caricatures et de charges pour servir à l'histoire de la guerre et de la révolution de 1870-71" were compiled and subsequently sold or donated to different institutions.

© Cambridge University Library, CC BY-NC 3.0

© Cambridge University Library, CC BY-NC 3.0

Wilhelm I and Bismarck

Parisians hiding in their cellars

Parisians hiding in their cellars

Adolphe Thiers firing on the Paris Commune © Cambridge University Library, CC BY-NC 3.0

Adolphe Thiers firing on the Paris Commune © Cambridge University Library, CC BY-NC 3.0

The six volumes of caricatures in the Cambridge collection were donated by the bookseller Frederick Justen, just prior to his death in 1906. His company, Dulau & Co, based in London, was one of Cambridge University Library’s suppliers at the time.

The large albums of Franco-Prussian caricatures came along with a number of contemporary satirical magazines in different languages, dealing with the troubled history of late 19th century Europe.

Italian depiction of French caricaturist Alfred le Petit © Cambridge University Library, CC BY-NC 3.0

Italian depiction of French caricaturist Alfred le Petit © Cambridge University Library, CC BY-NC 3.0

German humouristic war album with pen and ink drawings © Cambridge University Library, CC BY-NC 3.0

German humoristic war album with pen and ink drawings © Cambridge University Library, CC BY-NC 3.0