Spencer Museum of Art The University of Kansas

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"C'est la Guerre!" ("This is War!" or "Such is War!)
  • Félix Edouard Vallotton
    born: Lausanne, Switzerland ; died: Paris, France
  • "C'est la Guerre!" ("This is War!" or "Such is War!), 1915–1916
  • six woodcuts with printed wrapper
  • Private Collection
  • Not on display
  • EL2010.020.01-7
  • Loan: Not in the Spencer's collection
Label Text

Exhibition Label:
“Machine in a Void: World War I & the Graphic Arts,” Mar-2010, Steve Goddard
Before the War, Swiss-born Vallotton provided images for progressive arts journals in France, Germany, England, and the United States. An anarchist sympathizer, Vallotton also contributed to politicized newspapers Le Rire and Le Courrier français. While his pre-war work sometimes included scathing criticism of the French military bureaucracy, Vallotton, who was 49 at the start of the War and did not qualify for military service, was eager to express his support for France, his adopted country. Using the same whimsical yet psychologically intense, black and white mode as the pre-war works for which he was famous, “C’est la Guerre!” is Vallotton’s indictment of Germany’s role in the War. However, by the winter 1915-1916, when this portfolio was made, the complex realities and contradictions of war had set in. Vallotton’s six concise woodcuts of devastated landscapes, barbed wire entanglements, shell blasts, civilian slaughter, and debauched soldiers are simplistically anti-German. In one of the woodcuts, which features two soldiers fighting to the death with daggers, a comic figure (visually connected to Vallotton’s monogram) looks on with open mouth and saucer eyes (is it shock, horror, disbelief ?). Perhaps Vallotton, who was given to telling complex stories with seemingly simple visual means, was allowing a subtle voice for a lingering anti-military stance. The portfolio title is similarly ambivalent. A literal translation is “this is war,” but the phrase “c’est la guerre,” also has the idiomatic sense of “so it goes,” suggesting that war is an inevitable by-product of humanity.
See also the portfolio cover in the nearby case.