Abel Faivre's Unknown Soldier: The Material and Discursive History of an Iconic French WWI Poster


The mural poster that Abel Faivre created in late 1916 for the second national French war loan, showing a young soldier exhorting soldiers and civilians to join him under the caption “On les aura!” (We’ll Get Them!), is one of the most iconic images of the First World War, yet it has never been fully studied in its own right. Based on archival research that reconstructs the poster’s production, distribution, and reception, this paper suggests broader conclusions about the ideological function of illustrated wartime posters: namely, that they were a contested field of cultural production with multiple, contradictory, and evolving meanings that often diverged from those intended by the artists who created them and their commissioning agencies.

By reconstructing the geographic and numerical scope of the poster’s dissemination in its original form as well as through related media such as postcards, newspapers, and photography, the paper juxtaposes Faivre’s iconic design to very different early draft of the poster; identifies the contemporary and historical models that inspired the artist; and surveys the ways in which various groups (soldiers in the trenches, civilians on the home front, antagonistic political parties) appropriated the image and the caption to express their divergent points of view on the war.

Brett Bowles is Associate Professor of French Studies and Director of the Institute for European Studies at Indiana University, Bloomington. As a media historian, he has published widely on visual propaganda in France during the World Wars. This paper is taken from a developing book project on comparative history of wartime posters in France, German, Great Britain, and the United States.