World War 1 French propaganda art based on Dürer engraving

$2,600.00

Rare limited edition lithograph 40/50

                        Based on Albrecht Dürer’s “Knight, Death and the Devil”

 

Artist:  Maurice Louis Henri Neumont (1868 Paris – 1930 Paris)

 

Title:  Le Chevalier de la Mort (The Knight of Death).

 

Date:  August, 1915

 

Medium: Lithograph numbered by the artist in pencil 40/50 in the bottom margin. 

 

Signature:  Signed in the bottom margin by the artist in pencil - Maurice Neumont. 1915.

   

Condition:  The lithograph is in very good condition with no foxing and full margins.  There is a slight water stain on the extreme edge of the right margin, well away from the artwork and masked off by the mat.  The lithograph is unconditionally guaranteed genuine. 

 

Size:   Image: 54.5 x 39 cm; sheet: 66 x 50.8 cm 

 

Notes:  The artist, with acute and prescient irony, based his work on Dürer's 1513 engraving titled "Knight, Death and the Devil” (see notes below) - a work admired by Nietzsche and later idealised by the Nazis as representing the racially pure Aryan, and sometimes used in their propaganda imagery.  During the Nazi period the Knight was compared to Adolf Hitler when the city of Nuremberg presented him with an original copy of “Knight, Death, and the Devil.”

In Neumont's work, the Knight of Dürer’s engraving becomes the German Kaiser Wilhelm II riding through a landscape of gothic ruins. His horse tramples on a writhing mass of soldiers and civilians who cry out in agony and fury. The Kaiser steadfastly rides past the figure of Death, depicted as Crown Prince Wilhelm riding an ass, wearing a three-cornered hat with a skeleton insignia and holding an hour-glass in his hand.  The Devil of Dürer's engraving becomes a German soldier wearing a gas mask and bearing a canister of chlorine gas and a gas sprayer. Contemptuously spiked on the Kaiser's lance is the Treaty of 1831 (see notes below).

There are two small images below the main image: a head and shoulders full-face caricature of the Kaiser and, beside Neumont’s signature, an outline sketch of Dürer's engraving.

The work is a powerful political statement that succeeds on several levels. It savagely lampoons the  German hierarchy, unites the French and Belgian people against the invasion, boosts patriotic and moral unity in France and draws international attention to the German use of gas warfare.

Maurice Neumont was one of the leading French painters, illustrators and poster designers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.   A contributor to numerous magazines, Neumont's artistic work traversed the whole range of genres from watercolour to lithography. His work was described by a contemporary as " light and shade, grace and power, humour and tradition". With the coming of World War One, Neumont's mood changed as he rapidly became one of the leading proponents of French patriotic propaganda. After the war he was named a Knight of the Legion of Honour.

The Kingdom of Belgium was established in 1831, after the southern provinces of the Netherlands successfully revolted and won international recognition of their independence, declared in October 1830. In the Treaty of November 15, 1831, the five Great Powers of Europe—Great Britain, France, Austria, Prussia, and Russia—guaranteed the perpetual neutrality of the new kingdom and the integrity and inviolability of its territory. Originally conceived as a buffer against possible French aggression, a neutral Belgium became one of the pillars of the peaceful European order for the remainder of the 19th century and into the 20th century. In August 1914, at the outset of World War I, Germany invaded and occupied Belgium in violation of the treaty of 1831.

Dürer’s Knight, Death and the Devil (German: Ritter, Tod und Teufel), originally titled Rider (Reiter), is a large 1513 engraving by Albrecht Dürer, acclaimed as one of Europe’s greatest masterwork engravings.

An armoured knight, accompanied by his dog, rides through a narrow gorge flanked by a goat-headed devil and the figure of death riding a pale horse. Death's rotting corpse holds an hourglass to remind the knight of the brevity of life. The image is infused with complex iconography and symbolism, the precise meaning of which has been argued over for centuries. Snake-shrouded Death and the goat-faced Devil speak for themselves, but the work is loaded with other symbols. The knight's shining armour is believed to signify his solid Christian faith. The hourglass in Death's hand represents man's mortality. The dog running alongside represents veracity and loyalty, the scurrying lizard hints at coming danger and the skull near the bottom signifies death is near. Oak leaves, symbols for the resurrected Christ, adorn the head and tail of the resolutely striding horse.

Theories of Dürer's inspiration for the work range from Erasmus’s 1503 "Handbook of a Christian Soldier” to ecclesiastical sources - Psalm 23: ‘though I walk through the shadow of the valley of death, I will fear no evil’ (Psalms 23:4) to Ephesians:  “Therefore, take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” (Eph. 6:13) 

Item No:  ART046

The Australian War Memorial has a copy of this lithograph, (Accession Number ART92110)

The Reims Musée des Beaux-arts also has a copy, but from a much larger edition of 400, and without the caricature of the Kaiser.


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