Realism in Wartime : Prints from l'Illustration
A Colorful Illustration of the Terrace of the Café de la Paix in Paris in Wartime
Francois Flameng and Georges Scott are now the best known of illustrators to be published in the French newsmagazine 'l'Illustration' during the Great War years, but many other illustrators and artists contributed their work to the magazine. One of the regular artists who produced countless illustrations (as well as written journalism) during his war-time career was Louis Sabattier. While Flameng and Scott were consummate artists in a more modern sense of the word, Sabattier is best described as a photo realist, a true news illustrator who could turn out a stirring scene in almost perfect realistic detail, giving at first glance the impression of looking at a photograph, rather than at a hand-made watercolor or painting.
This type of illustration harkens back to the days when it was not always possible to procure suitable photographs for a particular article or news event. Fortunino Matania produced work of the same type in general, specializing in heroic battle-scenes of courageous individuals, while Sabattier preferred to portray more light-hearted war-related scenes behind the front-lines. He was skillful at drawing soldiers on leave or lovely smiling nurses, giving an impression of shared camaraderie and dogged good cheer. Sabattier's work was definetly morale building and uplifting and yet somehow tender and gentle, for all its ultimately militaristic subject matter. His soldiers are the citizen soldiers of the Republic, the poilus and officers who stand shoulder to shoulder in the trenches and greet each other as friends when on leave behind the front. His nurses are ordinary young or kindly older French ladies willing to forego middle-class conventions; they are ready and eager to help out in any way they can, even if only by looking lovely and engaging in a bit of harmless flirtation with a wounded and gallant officer.
Louis Sabattier apparently had a weak spot for the volunteer nurses of France, for he produced many fine and touching illustrations in which the ladies of the U.F.F. ('Union des Femmes de France') figure as main subject. These charming illustrations can be found in the links on this page as well as in the section on The Roses of No-Man's Land : Nurses in the Great War.
During the war years, 'l'Illustration' printed Sabattier's work mainly in sepia tone as well as occasionally in color, many of which were large two-page spreads suitable for framing. Greatly appreciated during his time, Sabattier was one of 'L'Illustration's' most famous and distinguished artists but he was not considered to be up to serious academic standards when it came to producing works of 'Art'. He was after all but a mere newsmagazine illustrator. Ironically however, it is work such as his own that is now better remembered than that of his more academically accepted collegues.
Nevertheless, this genteel depreciation apart, L. Sabattier along with Flameng, Scott, Simont and Lucien Jonas was one of the French artist-illustrators who helped form and define the contemporary public's mental image of the Great War. His work was of course printed and reproduced in countless newsmagazines worldwide during the war years. After the war he continued to work for 'L'Illustration' though his subject matter was more mundane and everyday though just as charming and colorful.
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