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Louis Raemaekers and World War One

Louis Raemaekers and World War One
Louis Raemaekers and World War One
During the first months of World War One, Dutch artist and political cartoonist Louis Raemaekers was horrified not only by the general consequences of modern warfare, but particularly by the actions of the German government and military. Living in the Netherlands, he saw and met Belgian refugees that had fled from German troops. In response, he began drawing cartoons for the Amsterdam Telegraaf, criticising German brutality and leadership as well as celebrating the Allied cause. These drawings, distributed globally through print media, had great impact on public perceptions of the war.

Political leaders including Herbert Henry Asquith and Theodore Roosevelt lauded his cartoons, and the French sculptor Auguste Rodin also complimented his skill as an artist. German leaders, particularly Kaiser Wilhelm II, were outraged by his portrayal of them as brutal monsters or idiotic caricatures, and the Kaiser allegedly offered a 12,000-mark bounty for the artist. Raemaekers was also brought to court in his own country for endangering Dutch neutrality, but he was acquitted.

In his cartoons, Raemaekers employed a combination of biting critique and comical satire. Artists like Théophile Steinlen and Jean-Louis Forain influenced his style of drawing as well as his socially oriented subject matter. He travelled around Belgium and France to witness the war first-hand and incorporated refugees' and soldiers' accounts of their experiences into his drawings. He also toured the United States, encouraging the public to stand with him against the Central Powers.

While these cartoons are propaganda in their championing of the Allied cause and denunciation of the Central Powers, the Allies focused on Raemaekers as a talented artist and honourable social activist. They particularly drew attention to his Dutch nationality, using it as proof of his role as an impartial and fair judge of the conflict. The Fine Art Society Ltd. of London published three volumes of Raemaekers' cartoons in limited edition, luxe formats, entitled 'The Great War: A Neutral's Indictment.' These volumes emphasised the importance of producing 'a permanent record of and memorial to his genius,' since many of his works were published in newspapers and would eventually decay (1).

Each image in these volumes was paired with a relevant text, including contextualisation, commentary, captions, and literary allusions. These allow not only a clearer understanding of Raemaekers' work but also of the major events that occurred during the war.

This exhibition presents a selection of Raemaekers' prolific work from World War One. Theses images demonstrate the multifaceted nature of his war cartoons as examples of art, propaganda, and social commentary. While these works served the purposes of propaganda, they allude to the history of art and make clear statements about justice and humanity.

(1) H. Perry Robinson, The Great War: A Neutral's Indictment,' The Fine Art Society, Ltd. (1916).

Louis Raemaekaers' drawings are reproduced by kind permission of the Louis Raemaekers Foundation. The Louis Raemaekers Foundation have published a book of his works entitled, 'Louis Raemaekers - with pen and pencil as a weapon'.