Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Friday, June 24, 2016

Lucien Jonas: Master War Illustrator

By Tony Langley

Jonas at Work Painting Indian Soldiers

Lucien Jonas was one of the more prolific Great War illustrators. A gifted and talented artist, he was mobilized in December 1914 and in February 1915 was officially accredited as "military painter seconded to the Musée de l'Armée" in Paris. During the war he traveled extensively along all sections of the front lines and produced thousands of drawings, oil paintings, charcoals, sketches, and illustrations of all kinds.

Special Sniper Rifle

British Soldiers on the Attack

Perhaps of all wartime artists in France, Jonas was the most successful and well known. In any case, his production of artworks of all kinds — paintings, sketches, drawings, woodcuts, and such — was prolific in the extreme. His work was published in virtually all of the French and Allied media as well in those of the Central Powers, though these last countries no doubt censored some of his more patriotic illustrations.

Brutal Huns Propaganda Piece

For, above all things, Jonas was a French patriot to the bone, full of pathos and a strong desire for revenge against the hated Teutonic invader and intertwined with a religiosity that was unusual for French artwork of that period. He also made great use of allegory in his work, some of his illustrations looking more like preparatory sketches for public statues. He was the creator of many series of illustrations that can often rightfully be described as propaganda for the French cause. His German officers look hateful and ungainly or arrogant, often sporting a monocle and mustache as well as showing an unholy delight in the wrongful suffering and depredations on the civilian population. These works were very influential in creating mental imagery of the Boche enemy, in inspiring patriotism out of outrage and a burning desire for revenge. But, in seeming contrast, Jonas was a vivid illustrator and portraitist of the common soldier of all Allied nations and of great generals and war leaders as well.

French Machine Gunners

Nighttime Observers

His work appeared in such varying weekly and monthly publications as L'Illustration, Les Annales, and La Guerre Documentée, this last being an artistically inspired publication pertaining to the war, published by Schwarz & Co. in Paris. The same publishers also printed a five-volume collection of Jonas's wartime sketches as a limited and numbered edition immediately after the war, so much was he held in esteem. Several of his oil paintings that were used as cover pages for La Guerre Documentée are on display at the museum of the Fort de la Pompelle near Reims.


  1. Fascinating entry. Now I plan to learn more about this artist. Together with Henri Farre they represent some of the finest of WWI art. David Beer