History on Display: En Guerre

I’ve spent most of this week in a small carrel in Regenstein library, head down and fingers flying as I try to push my way through a mini-proposal for a book I’d like to write.* It’s not my favorite way to work. Instead of getting up at the end of a stint to make a cup of tea, take care of a task and dance around my study for a few minutes, I have to plan breaks that will let me stretch body and brain.

Yesterday afternoon my brain was dead and my eyes were aching when I walked into the small gallery space connected to the Special Collections department to see an exhibit titled En Guerre: French Illustrators and World War I. Instant wake up!

I’ve been fascinated by the art produced in connection with the First World War for a long time, but this work was new too me: magazine illustrations, postcards, children’s books and prints in the crisp brightly colored style that I associate with advertising posters and children’s illustrations –but with a bite. I was particularly fascinated by the pieces designed to illustrate the diversity of the Allies: pictures of Allied soldiers in uniform, illustrations of national anthems and–my favorite–an odd depiction of the various Allies as flowers** threatened by worms and beetles wearing the distinctive German pickelhaube.

The exhibit is small, but thoughtfully curated–definitely worth a more thoughtful visit than I was able to give it yesterday. I’ll be back.

The exhibit will remain on display through January 2 for any of you in Chicago, or planning a visit. For those of you who aren’t going to be in Chicago anytime soon, the library offers a related on-line exhibit and an excellent catalog.

* Crossed fingers welcome.

**England is a thistle–a subtle suggestion of the prickliness that marked Anglo-French relations for several centuries.

Image courtesy of the University of Chicago Library

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