Extraordinary and explicit are two words that can be used to describe the ‘Horrors of War’, a series of ten, shocking, high quality etchings by Pierre-Georges Jeanniot (1848-1934), a notable French artist and close friend of Edgar Degas. Lost for a century, they have recently been rediscovered, published and made available for the first time.
Conceived as a defined series, they illustrate the appalling atrocities committed almost exactly a century ago against the Belgian people by members of the German army in the first few months of World War One. They were produced in response to reports on ‘The Rape of Belgium’ published around a year after the brutalities occurred.
Murder, torture, rape, pillaging, maiming, humiliation and the laying to waste of entire towns and villages are shown in graphic, horrific detail. Nobody was spared – men, women, children, doctors and priests all suffered the same terrifying treatment.
When Jeanniot displayed this series himself in 1915, the French police immediately banned it. They wanted to avoid spreading panic and to protect the public from these explicit and brutally honest depictions. After those very few sets were printed, the plates were locked away and subsequently lost, only to be rediscovered on eBay almost a century later.
With precedents in, and similarities to, the famous series of war etchings by Jacques Callot and Francisco Goya, Jeanniot’s historically important etchings are timeless. Although the atrocities occurred a century ago, similar crimes have been committed hundreds of times in war zones since – and are still happening today. The crimes they depict speak of the true horrors of war for all the innocent citizens caught up in the most devastating of human tragedies.
Jeanniot was famous in belle époque France for his lavish oil paintings of high society and his sharply observed cartoons and illustrations published in popular magazines. As would be expected, each etching contains a wealth of small details from shadows cast by German soldiers over a crucifix hung on a wall to Rubens-esque nudes representing the wealth of Belgium before the invasion, to stones resembling skulls thrown up by the wheels of a car dragging two Belgians to their deaths.
After acquiring the original copper plates etching plates, Mark Hill Publishing Ltd has had them professionally restored, enabling the etchings to be seen again and properly published for the first time. Each etching has now been given a title relating to an event that happened and matched to a quote from the reports published on the atrocities by either Joseph Bédier or Pierre, Baron Nothomb.
The Horrors of War is available in a numbered limited edition of 250 of each etching. Each of these posthumous impressions is priced at £220, or £1,750 for the full set of ten etchings contained in a museum quality, archive portfolio together with an illustrated, explanatory book.
The edition was officially published on 4th August 2014, the centenary of the invasion of Belgium by Germany, and the start of World War One. The full set of etchings can be viewed and bought at Mark Hill, Grays Mews Antiques, 1-7 Davies Mews, London W1K 5AB or via www.thehorrorsofwar.com.
About the author
After being a specialist at Bonhams and Sotheby’s in London, Mark Hill joined an internet company where he became a director, running its exclusive alliance with eBay. For the past twelve years, he has written for Miller’s, the internationally renowned publisher of books on antiques and collectables. After founding Mark Hill Publishing Ltd in 2006, he is now an independent author, publisher, lecturer and dealer in 20thC design and restruck prints. He is also an expert on the BBC Antiques Roadshow and has co-presented collecting for BBC2.