'Who still talks about decadent France?'
Cartoon 'The Battle of Verdun'
Cartoon on the Battle of Verdun by Johan Braakensiek, published in the Dutch weekly De Amsterdammer, 5 March 1916. The cartoon shows France imagined as a powerful 'antique' woman, who stops an aggressive German eagle. The text says: 'Who still talks about decadent France?'
For many decades, especially since the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-1871, stereotypes about French decadence had dominated foreign images of France. Decadence and racial degeneration was related to the allegedly political and military weaknesses of France and the growing effeminacy of the French nation visualized by 'irrational' Symbolist art.
This was also the case in the Netherlands. During the war, pro-German intellectuals reinforced this popular imagery about a frivolous France at the same time applauding the military force, the decisiveness, and the manliness of Germany and German culture. In anti-German circles, French military victories were particularly useful in debunking these images and demonstrating a renewed French power. In these radically pro-French and often nationalist Dutch circles, to which the cartoonist Braakensiek belonged, the Battle of the Marne in September 1914 and the Battles of Verdun and the Somme in 1916 were interpreted as powerful proof of a resurrected France. This 'purified' French culture was able to serve as an example again to the Dutch nation. See also 'Latijnsche Lente' [Latin Spring] of Jan Greshoff in 1918.