The Mystery of the Disappearing Joan of Arc

 

Those who have had an opportunity to be acquainted with Brewer’s multiple etchings of the West Front of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Rheims might be puzzled by the “whether or not” placement of a statue of Joan of Arc in front of the imposing structure.

 

The statue was created in the early 1890s by famed sculptor Paul Dubois on an 1888 public commission organized by the National Academy of Rheims. His plaster model was presented at the Société des Artistes Français in 1889 and then cast in bronze by the foundry artisan Pierre Bingen (versions of the Dubois statute were subsequently cast by others and placed in Paris, Strasbourg, and later, during World War I, in Washington, D.C.). The finished work was presented at the Salon des Artistes Français in 1895 and then offered to the city of Rheims. It was installed in the Place du Parvis in front of the cathedral and inaugurated by the president of the Republic, Félix Faure, on July 14, 1896.

Paul Dubois

Photographs show the statue in place in 1898 and 1906, but then the evidence gets a little shaky. A number of photographs of the cathedral, supposedly as it looked before the onset of World War I, show the West Front without the statue. Are we to believe that it was removed for safe-keeping before hostilities broke out?

 

On the contrary. We know that the statue of Joan of Arc was in place because a 1915 drawing done for L'Illustration by Gustave Fraipont shows the statue surviving the initial attack in September 1914. And in a photograph from Collier's New Photographic History of the World's War, published in 1918, we see a close-up of the statue with the cathedral behind it. Its stained glass windows have suffered from the 1914 bombing, and there are sandbags stacked to protect sculptures around the portals (note also the heat-warped sword). 

Two early photographs of the Dubois statue of Joan of Arc in front of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Rheims, France. Left, from 1898; right, in 1906. (Wikipedia)

Left: a 1915 drawing for L'Illustration by Gustave Fraipont showing the bombing of Rheims Cathedral with the statue of Joan of Arc at the lower right edge. Middle: an etching by Pierre Mouret showing the installation of sandbags to protect statuary after the initial bombing (courtesy:  Bzhouseofcool, Etsy). Left: In 1918, Collier's published a photo showing the Dubois statue in front of the cathedral (note broken windows and sandbags fully in place).

Above left: a photo showing the sandbags still in place but with the statue removed from its pedestal (The History of Ideas Blog, John Ptak). Above right: A rotogravure photograph published in 1922 showing the cathedral as it looked at the end of the war before restoration. The pedestal has been removed.

At the beginning of the war, Brewer completed his first etching of the West Front of the Rheims Cathedral. The timing of its publication, December 1914, and the French flags flying from the towers leave no doubt about the message of solidarity Brewer was trying to impart. It was this etching, published without a separate, specific U.S. copyright, that Emil Jacobi and others reproduced and marketed widely (paired with Brewer’s interior view of the Rose Windows) to an American public sympathetic to the Allied cause.

 

But Joan of Arc, the figure who would have best embodied French resistance,
is not there!

 

A new version of the Rheims Cathedral, co-signed by James and his brother Henry, was published in May 1916 in an edition of 500 (largest of any Brewer edition at that time) authorized by the Printsellers' Association, and it showed the statue of Joan of Arc, It included a separate American copyright, which was registered by Samuel Schwartz's Sons & Co. We can only guess that Henry realized that his brother had used an old photograph of the cathedral for his first etching of the West Front, one taken before the statue had been installed in 1896. (It was unlikely that James would have been able to do an on-site sketch in Rheims in the fall of 1914 after the war broke out. In any case, if he had gone to Rheims any time after 1896, he would have seen the statue.) The solution was to publish a new etching showing the statue. (Like the earlier etching, this new version was also widely distributed in a litho print, presumably licensed from the Schwartz Gallery and sold by the Goes Lithographing Company of Chicago, IL.)

 

In this joint production, the statue of Joan is somewhat ghostly in appearance and perhaps a bit off-center from the axis of the view. Since the location of the statue in these etchings is often not consistent with the cathedral's orientation, they all may have been done from earlier photographs taken before the statue was in place. In each of them, an artistic consideration might have forced Brewer to show the statue against the dark shadow of the left side portal. (It is curious that in each etching Joan seems to brandish her sword at a different angle.)

 

We know from photographs that the statue was removed from its pedestal in May 1918, In this period, a number of artists and photographers pictured the effects of the bombing on the Rheims Cathedral, and they didn't show the statue or the pedestal, which also must have been removed sometime later. But Brewer published an etching in 1919 that showed the cathedral intact as it once was and would be again after restoration. The statue of Joan of Arc statue is pictured, even though it wouldn't have been there in 1919. This is probably true for the 1921 version, as well.

 

An etching published in 1925 omits the statue. Then, in a 1928 remake of the 1919 view, the statue is back again, admired by tourists (presumably) in modern short skirts. 

 

At some point during the restoration of the cathedral, perhaps by 1926 based on a dated postcard, the statue was replaced on its pedestal in front of the cathedral, where it stood until at least the beginning of World War II, as shown in a 1937 photograph by Martin Hürlimann. After the war, it was installed on the south side of the cathedral and then finally moved to the square in front of the Palais de Justice slightly to the northwest of the West Front.

 

The 1928 version is the penultimate etching of the West Front of the Rheims Cathedral in the list of Brewer etchings authorized by the Fine Art Trade Guild. To complete this survey, a smaller etching, published in 1932, needs to be examined. It would be a surprise if Joan of Arc isn't in the picture.

Above: a PlaQ-Etching produced in the U.S. in the late 1920s and early 1930s in connection with the fund-raising for the cathedral's restoration. It was based on Brewer's first unprotected 1914 etching without the statue (or possibly directly from the same photo Brewer used). Below: the 1916 etching of the Rheims Cathedral, signed by James and his brother Henry, showing a ghostly, off-center image of the Dubois statue. 

Rheims Cathedral 1915 from auction cropp

Below left: the 1921 etching of the Rheims Cathedral, with statue. Below middle: the 1925 etching, without statue. Below right: Dubois' statue of Joan of Arc as you would find it today in the square in front of the Palais de Justice, catty=corner to the West Front of the Rheims Cathedral (Magnus Manske, WikiMedia). Her sword, which was missing for many years, has been restored.

Rheim Cathedral, no statue, no flags pos

©2017-19 Benjamin S. Dunham. Created with Wix.com.

Rheims Cathedral (JAB/HCB), 1916