Chaval’s cartoons, mainly wordless, are often derisive, ironic and filled with dark humor.
By John P. Walsh
The 53-year-old French cartoonist’s suicide in Paris in winter 1968 served as a tragic end to a witty career. Born Yvan Le Louarn near Bordeaux in 1915, Chaval left a suicide note on the apartment door that read “Mind the gas.” But today it is his actions as a young man in his late 20s that mark him for controversy.
Chaval’s professional name is a bastardization of Chevel, an early twentieth century architect for whose work the term “architecture naïve” was coined. While Chevel came to fantastical architecture after being a poor farmer, Chaval trained for years at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, the nation’s foremost art school.
It is a specific period in the cartoonist’s past that erupted into a controversy in late spring 2008 as a major French art museum mounted a retrospective exhibition of Chaval’s career. During the near incredible period of World War II, Chaval created drawings after 1940 with a racist and anti-Semitic slant for publication in Le Progrès, a Vichy newspaper. His drawings were characterized as “Pro-German Vichy and not just” by Pascal Ory, a leading French cultural historian of the Université de Paris-I-Panthéon-Sorbonne. When the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Bordeaux hosted an exhibition of 120 of Chaval’s pen-and-ink cartoons in summer 2008 none of his wartime anti-Semitic drawings was displayed. In an article in La Croix, the daily Paris Roman Catholic newspaper, Professor Ory revealed the nature of some of these hidden racist works as the exhibition opened.
By the mid 1950s Chaval was an international sensation, his cartoon work mentioned in the same breath in American publications with icons such as James Thurber (1894-1961), Charles Addams (1912-1988) and William Steig (1907-2003). Immediately after the war Chaval was cleared of wrongdoing and started to be published in top French publications—Punch, Le Figaro, Le Nouvel Observateur, Paris Match. He won the industry’s highest awards and remained at the top of his field until the time of his death.
In a June 5, 2008 article Professor Ory described Chaval’s wartime cartoons as “compelling” of racist anti-Semitism. One published Chaval wartime cartoon Professor Ory described—and the Bordeaux fine arts museum director confirmed its existence—shows two figures with exaggerated noses and wearing yellow stars on their coats. One of them wears two yellow stars and says to the other: “He made me a good price!” Professor Ory criticized not only the drawing’s crude racist ontology but that the Bordeaux art museum would seek to ignore or even cover up the cartoon’s existence in Chaval’s oeuvre. “I’m surprised,” Ory said, speaking in 2008, “that after thirty years of historiography, we are always looking to conceal the period of collaboration under the Occupation in France.”
That the art museum buried Chaval’s early racist work from view without explanation did not stop the museum director, M. Olivier Le Bihan, from defending an impugned Chaval after his controversial work was publicized: “We do not have the right to condemn a man because he made a tendentious drawing. Remember that after the war a trial cleared Chaval of some of the anti-Semitic cartoons ascribed to him. Chaval was called a humanist in Robert Merle’s 1954 Holocaust novel (“Death is my Trade”).”
Professor Ory, author of the classic Les Collaborateurs 1940-1945 (published in 1976), counters that it is “absurd” for the museum to justify the overriding purpose of an art exhibition as “first drawing” or that Chaval “does not deserve this trial of intent” because “he did it to eat.” Professor Ory states there is a “dialogue gap” between art historians and historians that leads to an “endemic lack of historical understanding” of the issues involved in an art exhibition resulting only in an ensuing public spectacle of controversy. Ory points to a similar mistake being made in another 2008 exhibition held in Paris of photographs by Collaborationist André Zucca (French, 1897-1973). This exhibition caused a public furor for not being specific about the conditions under which these images of the city during the Nazi Occupation had been made.
Ory contends that Chaval’s case is not simply a matter of a hungry young artist making due in wartime. There is further documentation of Chaval’s friendly relations with racist editors and writers on the Vichy newspaper. Beyond these facts is Professor Ory’s principled belief that “the problem of political engagement is not secondary” to any artist’s life or work. Chaval, professor Ory concludes, is a “draftsman collaborationist” – and though his political affiliations do not detract from his artistic talent it becomes important for the art historian and curator to explain the historical context including “the artist’s overall character” to the viewer. This practices intellectual honesty and makes the enterprise of art making and art exhibition “more human,” according to Ory.
The bell tower of St. Michael Church in Chicago’s Old Town at 1633 N. Cleveland Avenue. It was in 1876 that the church having rebuilt after the Great Chicago Fire of October 1871 hoisted five new bells into the tower that were cast by McShane Company. In 1888, the tower’s four-sided clock was installed. atop the steeple, the twenty-four-foot tall cross weighs over a ton. Until the mid-1880’s this church tower was the tallest building in Chicago.
By John P. Walsh
The story is told that if you can hear the five 2-to-6-ton bells peel from the 290-feet-tall tower of St. Michael Church you live in Chicago’s Old Town. Yet it depends on which way the wind is blowing.
St. Michael Church is one of Chicago’s oldest parishes and church buildings. It was founded by German Catholics in 1852. From their arrival in the 1830s and 1840s until World War I, German immigrants of all faiths made up Chicago’s most numerous nationality.
German immigrants soon migrated out of downtown Chicago and about two miles north to North Avenue. The east-west thoroughfare became known as “German Broadway.”
This European immigrant community expanded to eventually settle a four-mile square area that was called “North Town.” St. Michael Church was situated in the virtual center of North Town on land donated by successful German-born Chicago businessman and brewer Michael Diversey (1810-1869). Diversey had immigrated to the United States in the 1830s from Saarland in western Germany.
St. Michael Church stands on land donated expressly for the purpose of building it by successful German-American brewer Michael Diversey (1810-1869). Diversey emigrated from Germany in 1830, and by 1844 he was a Chicago alderman. The church is named after the wealthy beer maker’s patron saint, St Michael the Archangel, whose limestone figure stands in the high niche on the façade (see photograph below). Diversey’s so-called Chicago Brewery, first established in Chicago in 1839, grew to become one of the most extensive establishments of its kind in the West.
The church building is built of red brick with limestone trim in the Romanesque style. Construction started in 1866 and was finished three years later. In 1871 the new building was virtually destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire along with its North Town neighborhood. Only the church’s exterior walls remained. Using these existing walls, the fire-gutted St. Michael Church was rebuilt and rededicated in 1873. Ashes from that infamous conflagration can still be seen in the church’s basement.
The gabled three-portal main entrance harkens back to the cathedrals of Europe and was added to the façade in 1913 by a Chicago architect.
St Michael Church, interior.
In 1851 when St Michael was founded, Chicago’s total population was around 30,000 making it the twenty-fourth largest city in the United States.
Ten years later, in 1860, right before the outbreak of the American Civil War, Chicago’s population had nearly quadrupled and ranked in the nation’s top ten largest cities.
Chicago’s Catholic Church hierarchy in the middle of the nineteenth century was mostly Irish. These English-speaking bishops relied on religious orders to handle a tidal wave of non-English-speaking immigrants to Chicago, including the Germans.
In 1860, the St. Michael Church parish was entrusted to the Redemptorists, a religious order founded in in 1748 in Italy. The Redemptorists with their German congregation built the St. Michael Church in Old Town that stands today. Over 170 years later, the Redemptorist order continues to shepherd the parish.
A mosaic of Saint Michael the Archangel in the floor at the entrance of the church. He is an angel whose title “Archangel” signifies he is the leader of all God’s angels.
The mosaic of the patron angel in the floor starts the church’s 190-foot-long nave. It is one of the many religious images—others in stone, wood and paint—that constitutes the interior and exterior decoration of St. Michael Church. St. Michael the Archangel is mentioned four times in the Bible: in the Book of Daniel, the Epistle of Jude, and the Book of Revelation. St. Michael the archangel is mentioned by name twice in the Book of Daniel where in the first instance he helps the prophet Daniel and in the second he is linked to the “end times” of the world. In the Epistle of Jude, St. Michael the archangel guards the tombs of Eve and Moses and combats Satan to protect these holy sites. In the Book of Revelation St. Michael and his angels do battle with the “dragon.” St. Michael the Archangel is the patron saint of soldiers, police, and doctors.
The spacious, airy, and dramatic church sanctuary today looks basically as it did by 1902. The motivation for the church’s extensive redecoration in 1902 was its Golden Jubilee as well as one expression of the parishioners’ decided prosperity by the later 1890s.
In that Jubilee year, the stained glass was installed along with the 56-foot-high carved wood retable of the High (or main) Altar of the Angels. Though there are five altars in St. Michael Church, the main altar is the most spectacular, drawing the eye forward and upward from practically anywhere in the church. Crowning this painted construct—which is so heavy that it required a new local foundation to be dug for it—is the figure of St. Michael the Archangel described in the Book of Revelation. The angel is garbed in his panzer (“armor”) running rebellious angels out of heaven. St. Michael is flanked by the archangels Gabriel and Raphael. Nine choirs of angels and the saints Peter and Paul are also depicted in wood. Smaller human figures depict the four evangelists identified by their Christian symbols—specifically, the Winged Man (Matthew), Winged Lion (Mark), Winged Ox (Luke) and Eagle (John). All five altars were made by E. Hackner Company of La Crosse, Wisconsin, an early twentieth century designer, manufacturer and importer of artistic ecclesiastic furnishings.
The Annunciation window, Franz Mayer & Company of Munich, St. Michael Church, Chicago.
Anointing of Jesus, window detail, 1902, Franz Mayer & Company of Munich, St. Michael Church, Chicago.
The anointing of Jesus in Bethany by the sinful woman, traditionally the Magdalene. Though the story varies in certain details, all four gospels relate the anointing set in a house for a meal and a woman who pours expensive ointment on Jesus to which someone objects.
In regard to the ointment, Mark’s account (14:3) records that it is the purest of spikenard which was very expensive costing over a year’s wages (Mark 14:5).
Spikenard was grown in India, China, and Nepal and known in ancient Rome where it was used as a cooking agent. By the time of Jesus, in the early Roman Empire, spikenard was used primarily in perfume.
In 2020, the spikenard plant is part of Pope Francis’s coat of arms. He uses the image of the plant as does the Latin American church, as a symbol for St. Joseph.
Luke’s gospel speaks of Jesus’ feet being anointed by a woman who had been sinful all her life and who was crying (7:38). As her tears fall on the feet of Jesus, she kissed and wiped his feet with her hair.
The iconography of the woman’s actions in the Gospels has traditionally been associated with Mary Magdalene though none of the biblical texts specify her as the story’s subject.
Coat of Arms of Pope Francis (2013-). According to the Vatican, the image of the plant to the right of the star is spikenard and represents St. Joseph.
CHRISTMAS WINDOW (detail), 1902, St. Michael Church, Chicago. Franz Mayer & Company, Munich, Germany.
Created and installed by Mayer & Company of Munich in 1902 for St. Michael Church’s Golden Jubilee, the tall and thin stained glass windows —the fourth set of windows to be installed into architect August Walbaum’s original design— depicted biblical and other scenes and drew on centuries of craft and technique.
As with other American church building adaptations of earlier European architectural styles, the use of Romanesque rounded arches and corbels accentuated the use of Gothic-style glass in Chicago’s Old Town Roman Catholic church.
Carved pulpit, St. Michael Church.
Ceiling mural over the central nave includes symbolic depictions of the four evangelists–the Winged Man (Matthew), Winged Lion (Mark), Winged Ox (Luke) and Eagle (John). Its filigree evokes medieval illuminated manuscripts and perhaps a scene from the Book of Genesis that was painted in the dome of The Basilica of St Mark in Venice in the fifteenth century.
A copy made around 1913 of a sixteenth century Swabian-style Pieta.
The Sacred Heart side altar to the east side of the main altar honors Jesus’s apparition to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-1690). Statues depict St. Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787) and St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582), founders of religious orders.
Side altar honors Mary, Mother of Perpetual Help whose image was important to Saint Alphonsus, founder of the Redemptorists who were the religious order pastors of St. Michael Church from its start. Pope Pius IX (1792 – 1878) gave this specific icon to the Chicago Redemptorists in 1865. After the Great Fire, it was picked out of the charred embers. Having survived intact in the rubble, it was taken as a sign to rebuild the church building and later set the icon into this nearly Indo-Chinese-style retable.
The history of St. Michael Church is a study in the rise of the German population to a dominant position in a new American city that was itself rising as the City of the Century. Chicago in less than 50 years developed out of an onion swamp into the second most populated city in the United States.
Between 1874 and following World War I, Chicago’s rapid emergence on the world stage was accompanied by Deutschtum (or “Germanness”) in its culture.
While Deutschtum appeared to be invincible, the Kaiser’s defeat in 1918 in the European war signaled the beginning of the end for German cultural dominance in Chicago. Their cultural hegemony in Chicago was virtually completely dismantled by the start of World War II.
Sources: G. Lane and A. Kezys, Chicago Churches and Synogogues; P. d’A Jones and M.G. Holli, Ethnic Chicago; D.A. Pacyga and E. Skerrett, Chicago, City of Neighborhoods; D. McNamara, Heavenly City; St. Michael Church website.
Photographs by author taken on February 13 and 17, 2013; and May 6, 2016.
Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894) and Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) exhibited together in the Second Impressionist Exhibition in 1876 and became lifelong friends. Just two years later, in 1878, Caillebotte appointed Renoir to be executor of his will. Now in the wake of Caillebotte’s death in 1894, Renoir and Martial Caillebotte (1853-1910), the artist’s younger brother, were resolved to carry out Caillebotte’s final wishes to the letter. The most important charge given to Caillebotte’s advocates was to persuade the French State to accept their late friend’s collection of Impressionist art that came to be known as the “Caillebotte Bequest.” These 68 paintings were the wealthy artist’s assemblage of prime Impressionist art which today provides a glittering foundation for museum collections around the world, especially the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. An exact count of the bequest varies whether based on the inventories by the estate in 1894, by art writer Gustave Geffroy (1855-1926) also in 1894 or by Renoir, Martial Caillebotte and Léonce Bénédite (1859-1925) in 1896.
In 1894 Caillebotte’s bequest included paintings by living artists such as Camille Pissarro, Edgar Degas, Paul Cézanne, Alfred Sisley, Claude Monet, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Two artists in the collection were already dead – and both Jean Millet (1814-1875) and Édouard Manet (1832-1883) were more highly prized than the others at the time. A vast majority of Caillebotte’s more than five dozen paintings were painted and purchased before 1880.
The French government was accustomed to selecting and purchasing works for the national collection on their own initiative and looked on Caillebotte’s donation as a “tricky business” as expressed by Republican Henry Roujon, Fine Arts administrator who had only recently worked for Jules Ferry. From a wanting-to-oblige Establishment viewpoint the bequest was complicated because Caillebotte boldly stipulated that all 68 works be accepted together and earmarked as a group for entrance into the Louvre. Up to now the French State only had experience in purchasing Sisley and Renoir (“Young Girls at the Piano,” acquired in 1892) for the national collection. Moreover the acceptance of Caillebotte’s collection would change State policy to exhibit no more than three works by any artist for Caillebotte’s bequest included more paintings than that number for each artist. Although twenty years had passed since the first Impressionist exhibition in Paris in 1874, the French State had never taken much of a public interest in this diverse group of nonacademic artists. On the other side of the table as Renoir and Martial Caillebotte were primarily concerned with the State’s acceptance of the entire body of work, those living artists in the bequested collection had their concerns if they succeeded.
One antidote to this attitude of entrenchment was that the Republican French state in 1894 was halfway into its second decade of shepherding progressive policies onto France and its cultural leaders realized this must extend to a determined national support for this windfall of abstruse avant-garde artists. Following a year of negotiation with executors Renoir and the younger Caillebotte the State cut its deal. They might have refused the whole lot of them, but accepted a majority of the bequest and more than one painting of each artist. Further they formally agreed to exhibit all 40 works and they were duly hung in the Musée du Luxembourg in February 1897. In addition to two by Millet, these 38 Impressionist masterworks are today in the Musée D’Orsay. None of Caillebotte’s own paintings were included in the legacy. Protests by traditional art voices were now useless: the Impressionists, accused of “ruining young artists,” were now on national museum walls. Cézanne’s response to the inclusion of two of his paintings is forthright: “Now (William-Adolphe) Bouguereau can go to hell!” During this hard-edged contest to determine which artists and art works were included or excluded, it was not the museums that picked up the pieces but the mainly French and American collectors as well as the gallery dealers who mounted historic one-man shows for Caillebotte (at Durand-Ruel in June 1894), for Cézanne (at Ambroise Vollard in 1895) and for Monet (Durand-Ruel in May 1895).
The settlement accepted in January 1895 and promulgated a year later was not the last word for Renoir who continued to try to fully achieve his friend’s terms. On at least two occasions – in 1904 and 1908 – the works refused by the State in 1894 were proffered to them. Both times these 28 remaining works were refused and as far as the French State was concerned the case of the Caillebotte Bequest was closed. Only by his death in 1919 were Renoir’s efforts to honor Caillebotte’s bequest to France halted (Martial had died in 1910). In 1928, over thirty years after Caillebotte’s death and bequest, the French State dared to make a legal claim to those remaining 28 works they had rejected three times previously. Inexorably cloaked in superiority, this latest endeavor of the official art establishment revealed its opportunism as the changing winds of taste now clearly favored Impressionism. Both original executors of Caillbotte’s bequest now dead, it was left to Martial Caillebotte’s son’s widow to respond to these highly-placed administrative scratchings. Her decision: she refused to hand over these works and placed them on the open market. The “rejected” and overlooked works of the “Caillebotte Bequest” were sold to private collectors all over the world, including to Americans Albert C. Barnes (1872-1951), and H.O. Havemeyer (1847-1907) and Louisine Havemeyer (1855-1929). Many of these remainder works’ locations are unknown.