French Temperance poster, rendered in vivid chromolithography

Fred[eric] Christol / Chromotypographie Berger-Levrault & Cie, Nancy, L’ALCOOL VOILA L’ENNEMI [“Alcohol is the enemy”]. [Paris: Union française anti-alcoolique, 1900?]
Chromolithographic poster, 48”h x 35”w at neat line plus margins. Flattened and backed with canvas, with minor wear along old folds and at edges.

A large and striking French temperance poster attacking alcohol as “the enemy”.

The Temperance movement in France is way, way outside my usual ambit, but I couldn’t resist this poster when I stumbled on it while wandering Paris during the 2021 Paris Map Fair.

To humanize the message, artist Frederic Christol employed an interesting “poster-within-a-poster” design, featuring a small crowd viewing an array of posters affixed to the side of a building. At top center the largest of these attacks absinthe, a favorite of the bohemian set and for years a particular bête noire of temperance advocates in Europe and America. Another poster, at center left, tell us that “Alcohol is the mainstay of insane asylums, hospitals and prisons. Alcohol today does more harm than these historical scourges: famine, pestilence and war.” Three posters at lower center advertise the Union française anti-alcoolique, the Société française de Tempérance de la Croix-Bleue, and the Ligue nationale contra l’alcoolisme, all players in the late-19th/early-20th century Temperance movement.

Several figures in the crowd are of particular interest. Isolated at far right, a solitary working-class man views with interest a list of “choice poisons” including eaux-de-vie, vermouth, genièvre (gin), &c. In the center the artist has placed a mother, with a babe in arms and a young girl holding her hand—the man’s wife, perhaps?—thus reminding the viewer of the social costs of alcohol.

The Temperance movement came relatively late to France, but

“By 1914, alcoholism was considered one of the three grands fleaux, or great plagues [the other two being ?], that had struck France in the late nineteenth century, and it was blamed for all the ills of society, from a rising rate of criminality, suicide and mental illness to depopulation, revolutionary worker movements and even feminism. Alcoholism was, therefore, not just an individual misfortune, but a national tragedy.” (Prestwich, p. 35)

Artist Frédéric Christol (1850-1933), a French author, painter and missionary to Basutoland, a British colony in modern-day Lesotho. He wrote Au sud de l’Afrique (1900) and L’art dans le Afrique austral (1911), both published by Berger-Levrault. By chance I found this family photo from his time on mission.

OCLC gives but one institutional holding, at the Université Paris Cité, whose catalog dates the poster to 1900 and identifies the Union francaise anti-alcoolique as the publisher.

OCLC 746457398 (Université Paris Cité). Not in Catalogue collectif de France. A bit of background from P. E. Prestwich, “French Workers and the Temperance Movement”, International Review of Social History, vol. 24 no. 1 (1980), pp. 35-52).