Liberty and Victory

Twins of French wartime iconography

By Smithsonian's National Museum of American History

Bagne De L'Union ParisienneSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

This first WWI poster calls to mind the famous revolution painting, "Liberty Leading the People," by Eugène Delacroix. The figures are dressed in late eighteenth-century apparel, and the caption below reads, "for France to be victorious, like at Valmy!" - a famous revolution victory.

This figure's appearance is close to that of the personified "Liberty" in that they both wear a loose, billowing dress which falls from their shoulders t expose their breast. However, in this version, Liberty appears to be a young girl, protected by the man to her left.

She also wears the Phrygian cap, which became the symbol of liberty during the French Revolution. Tucked into it is a small wheel of cloth with the colors of the people's flag (the modern French flag) on it.

Banque Francaise Et La Victoire Est NousSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

The same hat can be seen on this Marianne figure from another poster - Marianne being a nickname given to many female figures wearing the Phrygian cap from the French Revolution.

As in the first example, she seems to be guarded by a soldier. Interestingly, part of the caption for this says "victory is ours," implying perhaps that this figure is the personification of Victory, especially since she appears to be crowning the soldier as a victor.

Souscrivez Pour Hater La Paix Par La VictoireSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

In this poster, we have a reversal, with Victory being the one protecting, rather than protected. This Victory guards a personified Peace, who appears to be carrying an olive branch (a well-known symbol of peace) and a baby (symbolizing new growth with the next generation).

In this version, she has traded her flag for a sword, and instead of the Phrygian cap worn by the last two figures, has donned a military helmet which further emphasizes her combative role.

Souscrivez Pour La Victoire Banque Nationale De CreditSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

She does share some resemblance with this next example, however. Like her, this figure has a pair of large, white wings sprouting from her back, linking them both to the Greek goddess of victory, Nike.

While the first two women wore only cloth, these two figures wear armor. The breastplate style, as well as the apparent army of ghost soldiers behind her, brings to mind a Valkyrie from Norse mythology.

2 E Emprunt De La Defense NationaleSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

This image creates an interesting combination of the two types of figures we have seen previously.

Our central figure wears a dress made of the French flag, but also armor and a winged helmet.This could be another allusion to Valkyries, who were depicted by later artists with similar helmets.

Meanwhile, behind her is a painted statue, with wings and a sword similar to our third example. This figure also wears the Phrygian cap, with a creature sitting atop it (possibly a Gallic rooster, France's national animal).

Pour Le Triomphe Souscrivez a L'Emprunt NationalSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

Here we have another image of the same sculpture, drawn by a different artist. The similarity is evident from a close-up, but seeing the entirety of the poster reveals at least two interesting details.

First, that she is calling warriors of the past to battle, just like our Valkyrie of a previous poster.

Second, that she stands in front of the Arc de Triomphe. The scene is entitled "Le Départ de 1792," and depicts the beginning of the people's uprising. It is part of a series of four scenes, one of which includes another winged female figure symbolizing Triumph/Victory.

2 E Emprunt De La Defense NationaleSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

The face of this figure is painted slightly differently in each of these two versions, which we can attribute to different artistic styles.

Pour Le Triomphe Souscrivez a L'Emprunt NationalSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

However, there is no doubt that they belong to the same statue.

Pour Le Drapeau! Pour La Victoire!Smithsonian's National Museum of American History

As does this.

While the face is the same, the body is not. In this version, she returns to the original Liberty of the Revolution, with a flowing garment and exposed breast. Although, it should be noted, there is a small face on her belt which we've seen in other images.

It seems from the way that these figures' features are traded and merged that Liberty and Victory were one and the same in the eyes of the French people - or, at the very least, twins.

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