Musée des Horreurs, le Traitre, is a poster made by an artist using the pseudonym, V. Lenepveu during 1899-1900 in Paris. The poster is part of a collection of a set of 51 hand coloured lithographs published as Musee des Horreurs. They contain caricatures of various individuals involved in the Dreyfus incident in france and they show the rise of anti-Semitism in France . The caricatures showed the heads of various people involved in the dreyfus affair, Dreyfus supporters on the bodies of animals. It documented the French Public’s opinion on the Dreyfus Affair. Another collection made by him- Musée des Patriotes glorify those working to undermine Dreyfus such as Édouard Drumont, the editor of the anti-Semitic daily La Libre Parole and Paul Déroulède a poet, anti-Republican activist, and founder of the nationalist Ligue des Patriotes showing them in heroic poses.
The posters were originally published in 1899,” At the opening of the Paris World’s Fair, and after Dreyfus’ re-trial at Rennes. Among those depicted in caricature are Louis Lépine, Emile Zola, Alfred Dreyfus, Georges Picquart, Georges Clemenceau, Henri Brisson, Fernand Labori, and Ludovis Travieux.”1
The posters were acquired from the collection of Jean Marie Goulemot, a collector of French intellectual history and a member of the Institut Universitaire de France in 2002. The location of the image is now at Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
The Dreyfus Affair-
In 1894, the French army’s counter intelligence got to know that information about new artillery was being passed on to the Germans by a spy, likely to be on the General Staff. The suspicion lay on a Jew, Alfred Dreyfus, a French army captain. On 15th October 1894, he was arrested for treason and then convicted in a secret court martial, his rank public ally stripped and was sentenced to imprisonment for life on devils in French Guiana. The situation was heightened by the fact that france had lost the Franco-Prussian war to Germany in just 1870 and relations between the two were strained.
In 1896, LT Colonel Georges Picquart, the chief of French military Intelligence reported that he had found evidence that the traitor was actually Major Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy. But Picquart was silenced and transferred to Tunisia. the reports of a cover up and the possible innocence of Dreyfus were released to the press, which was followed by many debated over antisemitism in the. Esterhazy was judged not guilty. This was followed by an intense campaign by his supporters including Emile Zola, a novelist which led to his second trial in 1899 and was declared guilty again despite the evidence that was in favor of him being innocent. Emile Zola wrote ‘J’accuse,’ an open letter to the French president in defense of Alfred Dreyfus in 1989. It accused the army of covering up their mistaken conviction of Dreyfus. Due to this, the Dreyfus incident gained a lot of public attention. Most of the publicity of the incident came from anti-Semitic groups. They believed that Dreyfus was the symbol of Jewish disloyalty. The nation was divided into two parts, the ones who supported him and ones who didn’t. The people who were against Dreyfus saw this as their national security being subordinated to the freedom of one person
In 1898, the important document that implicated Dreyfus was found to be a forgery as Maj. Hubert-Joseph Henry of the intelligence section confessed to fabricating it to strengthen the army’s position. A cabinet was set up in 1899 headed by Radical René Waldeck-Rousseau in order to protect the republic. But Dreyfus was again found guilty by a new court martial at Rennes in 1899.
However, he was given a pardon by the president, Emile loubart and released from jail due to public opinion. He continued to live on house arrest till 1906. On 12 July 1906, Dreyfus was officially exonerated by a military commission. After this he was readmitted into the army with a promotion to the rank of major and a week later made a knight of the Legion of Honor. In October he was placed in command of an artillery unit at Saint-Denis. He was only publicly declared innocent by the army in 1995.
The Dreyfus incident marked a new phase in history of the Third republic. There was a series of radical led governments who started an anticlerical policy which led to the separation of church and state in 1905. This affair divided the Third republic from 1894-1906 and made a lasting impact on the French nation.
Reason behind the poster-
In this image, Dreyfus himself is depicted with the body of a hydra, a monster with ten heads which when cut off, is succeeded by others. The image of a serpent defeated by a crucifix sword is a well known metaphor for the Christian good defeating Jewish evil and the ability of the Hydra to restore itself after an attack. The Hydra implied a Jewish conspiracy in which another traitor would take Dreyfus’s place when called.
The poster was made before Dreyfus’s official pardon and hence it was warning against the support of Dreyfus.
According to me, the image when it was made, showed a possible traitor of France, someone who had betrayed the nation and may have evoked strong feelings of patriotism. It was an anti-Semitic comment on the Dreyfus affair and marked the rise of anti-Semitism in France. Now, after the official pardon given to Dreyfus, and many years since it happened, it shows injustice and the sufferings of the wrongly convicted.
The identity of the artist remains unknown but he goes by the Pseudonym V. Lenepveu. There’s a possibility that the entire series was promulgated by Leon Hayard, an independent publisher who also distributed many anti-Dreyfus material. The journalist also wrote the famous missive J’accuse, the remaining caricatures by Lenepveu excoriate a variety of prominent Dreyfusards, Republican statesmen and Jews, including 8 separate representations of the members of the Jewish Rothschild family.
The time period was dominated by the Art Nouveau style which is what was used in the poster. Art Nouveau is an international style of art and architecture. It was most popular during 1890-1910 and came about as a reaction to the academic art style of the 19th century. Inspired mostly by natural forms and structures like plants and flowers. It includes, fine and decorative arts, architecture, painting, graphic work, jewelry, interior design, furniture, ceramics, textiles, glass and metal work.
By 1910 it was replaced by Art Deco which is a European architectural and decorative style and then by modernism.
The poster was a coloured lithograph using ink on paper. Lithography is a method of printing originally based on the immiscibility of oil and water, the printing is from either a stone or a metal plate. It was invented in the 18th century by a German actor and author called Alois Senefelder. It started as a cheap form of publishing theatrical works. It is also used to print artwork on paper.