Lettering in the Butter Dish
At the turn of the century, the French Republic was threatened by a military-church-aristocracy coalition and a huge bureaucratic machine dominated by L’assiette au Beurre or the Butter Dish — the entrenched job-holders who dispensed favors for a price. They were despised but curiously tolerated.
During this period Paris was emerging as the art capital of the world. The Belle Epoch was in full swing. Artists were streaming in from Europe, joining ad hoc Salons des Independent. Many socially conscious artists turned to anarchism as a way to transcend the insularity of bohemianism and openly vent their political frustrations. They often created cartoons as a weapon of their struggle and, therefore, required outlets that projected their images beyond the hermetic salons and ateliers. It was propitious that in 1901 Samuel Schwarz founded a satiric visual weekly, aptly titled L’Assiette au Beurre, expressly poised to attack the functionaries who made their fortunes off the sweat of the citizenry. One of many graphic periodicals at the time, it not only critiqued the ruling classes but altered social mores in the process. The journal provided a matchless opportunity to exhibit biting satires within a virulent, highly innovative artistic environment whose professed mission as the overseer of social foible and immoral excess was successfully carried out for the next twelve years
L’Assiette published weekly; its issues were based on single themes that scrutinized specific events or international personalities, such as Franz Kupka’s satiric trilogy devoted to “Money,” “Peace,” and “Religion.” Usually a single artist was responsible for all the artwork in an entire issue — approximately sixteen large-scale drawings (some reproduced in two or three colors). At various times, groups of contributors were invited to tackle a particular bête noire, including the faulty judicial system, the hypocritical Catholic Church hierarchy, or the inept medical profession. The most memorable single issues of L’Assiette are those executed by artists with fervent biases, such as Vadasz on homosexuality, Veber on Reconcentration Camps in the Transvaal, Gris on Suicide, and Hermann-Paul on Lourdes, the religious retreat that he believed exploited atavistic superstitions.
This Christmas issue, illustrated by Demetrios Galanis, is a secular reworking of the story of Christ wherein he falls prey to the venal Butter Dish; it is unique for its incredible hand lettered text, designed in a Gothic manner by Galanis