Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Cartoonist Raemaekers' work drew blood

Cartoonist Louis Raemaekers
At the beginning of the Great War, after a young Bosnian assassin killed Archduke Ferdinand and put Europe’s colonial powers in a tizzy, Germany invaded neutral Belgium on its way to a confrontation with France, and by extension, with England.

Officially, the neighboring Dutch government remained neutral to these developments, the conventional wisdom being that when you’re situated between two warring giants the best policy is not to get involved. Some Dutch citizens took a dim view of that policy. Among them was J.C. Schroeder, editor of the Amsterdam Telegraaf, who wrote scathing editorials condemning the brutality of the Germans and criticizing the passive Dutch government.

Schroeder encouraged the work of a firebrand editorial cartoonist, Louis Raemaekers, whose vitriolic illustrations so incensed the German government that they put a price on his head, offering to pay 12,000 marks for Raemaekers’ capture, dead or alive.

Raemaekers’ anti-German sentiment didn’t come easy. After all, his mother was ethnically German, though he was born in the Netherlands. After the invasion, Raemaekers along with many other Dutch citizens, didn’t believe the reports of atrocities coming from Belgium. He decided to see for himself. Reaemaekers ventured across the border into Belgium and was appalled at what he saw.

Raemaekers’ work appeared in the Telegraaf, and later was picked up by British authorities, who published inexpensive paperback books of his cartoons to help with the propaganda effort to mobilize the citizens of Great Britain. Fearing for his life in the Netherlands, Raemaekers’ fled to England, where he continued to work.

His illustrations gained renown throughout western Europe and in the United States. Upon seeing them, the French sculptor Auguste Rodin exclaimed, “But these are not cartoons! Each one is a picture.”

In April 1917, The Century Company published a special limited edition of Raemaekers’ work in the United States. Each copy of the 1,050 edition was printed with the number in red ink. Volumes I and II of this edition printed specially for Mrs. William Larimer Jones is in the collection of rare and unusual books at Lighthouse Books, ABAA. William Larimer Jones was a steel industry executive.

The edition contains 126 plates of Raemaekers’ wartime illustrations in charcoal, pen and ink, and with watercolor tinting on some. It contains a foreword by former President Theodore Roosevelt and an introduction by H. Perry Robinson, an acclaimed war correspondent for The Times of London.

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