A lesson from France

A lesson from France

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Title: In Alsace - The first lesson

Author : FABIANO Fabien (1882 - 1962)

Creation date : 1914

Date shown: 1914

Dimensions: Height 36 - Width 46

Technique and other indications: Colored lithograph.Series of lithographs Glorious pages

Storage place: MuCEM website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

Picture reference: 04-509127 / 50.39.1934 D

In Alsace - The first lesson

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

Publication date: February 2009

Historical context

The beginnings of the 1914-1918 war: the Mobilization and the offensive in Alsace-Moselle

The IIIe Republic, born of the disaster of Sedan on September 4, 1870, must quickly sign the armistice and accept the Treaty of Frankfurt of May 10, 1871, which amputates France from Alsace and a large part of Lorraine, purely and simply annexed by Prussia. It may not be his defeat, rather that of the Second Empire, but, with his eyes riveted on

“The blue line of the Vosges”, it has hoped ever since, to regain its territorial integrity and wash its scorned honor.
The 1914 conflict finds one of its many causes

in this desire to recover the "lost provinces". If we cannot say that this feeling of revenge, mixing patriotism and blind, racist and brutal anti-Germanism, is properly one of the causes of the outbreak of the war, it was reactivated by propaganda at the start of the conflict, and it then re-informs the mentalities of the country.
1er August 1914, the General Mobilization is decreed in France. On August 3, war was officially declared by Germany. In accordance with plan XVII designed in 1913 by Joffre, the French troops, regrouped in Lorraine, immediately launched the offensive towards Alsace and Moselle. Decision both symbolic and strategic: the hour of revenge has finally come, where France will recover in a few weeks these lost provinces. The time has come for “sacred union”, for the mobilization of all talents and energies in the service of “the war effort”.

Image Analysis

A lesson from France

Lithography In Alsace-The first lesson is the last in a series of five, titled Glorious pages. These lithographs, intended to be reproduced and published in certain newspapers or periodicals, are intended for a wide audience. They were made in August 1914 by Fabien Fabiano (1882-1962), painter and illustrator, who until then devoted himself to cartooning or the representation of Parisian life.
The simple line does create the serious, heroic, tragic and even painful atmosphere of the scene.
In a classroom, filled with the symbols of the Republic and itself an emblematic place of combat and the identity of this republican France, a French soldier from 1914 (red pants), present on the Alsace front in August 1914 provides a lesson in history and geography, a lesson in France. The momentum of the soldier, who did not take the time to close the door, is perceptible: like a breath, he crosses the classroom, sowing sword and book on a chair which has been taken there by chance.
It is aimed at Alsatian students (female costume). With an air of elation, penetration and seriousness, he indicates with his arm, on a map of amputated France, the lost provinces: this movement represents that of the troops, his own. He doesn't need the book, nor does he look at his thin paper: he knows this lesson by heart, and it is with passion that he professes it. Themotion echoes the movements already mentioned (of the armies, of the soldier entering the class and of the arm). It is communicative: the students are challenged and passionate, as their open mouths show.
The classroom opens, in two places (door and window) on a distant background hardly suggested: a rural and hilly landscape. The horizon is blocked by the hesitant, curious, timid and almost fearful crowd of Alsatians also in costume. They remain outside, simple witnesses of the scene, facing and mirroring the spectators that we are. Both in motion (they approach slowly, bend over) and static (almost frozen with hesitation) they contrast with the movements animating the class. Removing the depth of field, they reinforce and focus the intensity of the scene playing out in front of them.


The school of the Republic: one of the places of the fight for France and its values

The lithography wants to communicate the patriotic impulse: it is about mobilize the greatest number by insisting on the merits and the crucial character of this war. It is a question of survival: that of the individual soldier merges with that of the Republic. To this end, the image is simple and straightforward, conveying unifying, mobilizing and easily recognizable values. It is urgent: has the author himself not abandoned light subjects, simplified his style to contribute to propaganda and the war effort?
The title of the series, Glorious pages, and the legend of this lithograph, The day of glory has come refer to The Marseillaise, composed precisely in Strasbourg, during the war which already opposed, in 1792, France and Prussia. Daughter of the Revolution and its heroes, the IIIe République will in turn write glorious pages of history. And one of those rare and privileged moments "has arrived", when you have to be faithful to the greatness of your past and effectively defend the values ​​of the motherland. The glorious history of the Nation, sung and taught in the schools of the Republic is thus, more than ever, ofactuality.
Republican France is symbolized by the classroom which contains and respects regional diversities (costumes), by integrating them into a unity of values. Primary school, made compulsory, secular and free by the Ferry laws of 1881-1882, teaches and implements republican principles, ensuring the equality of all in the right to education, as well as the progress of conditions and knowledge. It appears well as the place of a fight engaging the future of this Republic, at the conclusion of a series which mainly featured scenes of war.
Alsace is here, as in the whole series, fantastically reconquered. The saturation of the symbols (frame of the scene and elements present in this frame) marks the reconquest of the reinvested space. The first lesson, taught by a soldier who was perhaps a civilian teacher, consists in reminding these students (who, moreover, should not speak French, since this was prohibited by the German authorities) that they are children never forgotten in the Republic, and that they will also have to defend it and bring it to life.

  • childhood
  • War of 14-18
  • nationalism
  • propaganda
  • Alsace Lorraine
  • annexation
  • education
  • school
  • Third Republic
  • symbols


Jean-Pierre AZEMA and Michel WINOCK, The Third Republic, Paris, Calmann-Levy, 1970.Françoise MAYEUR, History of teaching and education volume III, 1789-1930, Paris, Tempus, 2004.Roland OBERLE, L'Alsace au temps du Reichsland, 1870-1914, Mulhouse, ADM éditions, 1990. Mona OZOUF, The School, the Church and the Republic 1871-1914, Paris, Seuil, coll. “Points Histoire”, 1982.

To cite this article

Alban SUMPF, "A lesson from France"

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