Thursday, September 17, 2009

Crimes and punishments

Félix Vallotton (1865-1925) was born in Lausanne, which is now home to the Fondation Félix Vallotton. He moved to Paris in 1882 to study under Jules Joseph Lefebvre and Gustave Boulanger at the Académie Julian. In 1891 Félix Vallotton made his first woodcut, an art to which he devoted much of his time for the next decade, inspired by the Japanese ukiyo-e prints that were such a formative influence on the Impressionists, post-Impressionists, and Symbolists. Also in the 1890s Vallotton was a key member of the post-Impressionist alliance known as Les Nabis; he was particularly close to Édouard Vuillard, Pierre Bonnard, and Maurice Denis. As a printmaker, Félix Vallotton is best-known for his woodcuts, but he also produced some powerful lithographs, in particular the 23 original colour lithographs that comprise the 1902 Crimes et Châtiments issue of the anarchist satirical journal L'Assiette au Beurre, protesting oppression by all forms of authority: the state, church, bosses, parents, sexual predators, and especially the police.

A note on the back cover tells us that "The current number presents many innovations. It is lithographed, it is only printed on the recto, and its format is larger than ordinary issues of L'Assiette au Beurre." It is worth noting that this was the only issue of which this can be said. Paul Balluriau did illustrate an issue with original lithographs, but they were printed on recto and verso. In practically all other issues, the illustrations (even those by major figures such as Kees van Dongen) were reproduced drawings rather than original prints. I think L'Assiette au Beurre was right to accord this extra respect to these marvellous lithographs by Félix Vallotton, which are angry, powerful, funny, and always drawn with the most expressive of lines, and the subtlest use of tiny patches of colour. I'll let them speak for themselves, with the original captions and my free translations (and of course will be grateful for any improvements to these).

S’agit pas de savoir si j’ai volé, mais si vos agents ont le droit d’entrer chez moi le képi sur la tête!
The question’s not if I’m a thief, but if your officers have the right to come into my house with their caps on!

Bougeons pas, c’est la femme du commissaire
Don’t move a muscle, it’s the superintendent’s wife

Là dedans tu pourras gueuler!
You can yell as loud as you like in there!

Il est mort, entendu! mais était-il ou non sur ma terre!
He’s dead, certainly! But was he or was he not on my land?

Salue d’abord, c’est l’auto de la Préfécture
Salute first, it’s the Prefect’s car

Tu la trouves un peu dure celle-là!
Did you find that one a bit hard?

Tu finiras par le savoir ton catéchisme!
By the time we’ve finished you will know your catechism!

Ta mère n’aurait pas pu te faire passer ça!
Your mother won't be able to let you off this!

Tu y reviendras, cochon, pisser sur mon mur!
Come back, would you, you pig, to piss on my wall!

Le jour de boire est arrivé!
The day of drinking has arrived!

Vous me donner votre argent, je vous prête mon experience, voila!
You give me your money, I give you the benefit of my experience!

Vos cinquante francs seront bien mieux-là qu’à la caisse de l’Épargne
Your fifty francs will be much safer here than in a savings bank

Et celui-là?
Il a crié Vive la liberté!

And this one?
He shouted “Long live Liberty”!

Une heure dix... Monsieur voux ne faites plus partie de la maison!
Ten minutes past one... Sir, you are no longer employed here!

En plus, le condamne à mort pour outrage et voies de fait
In addition, sentence him to death for insulting behaviour and assault

Vous me conjuguerez dix fois le verbe “Je regarde voler les mouches au lieu d’écouter mon professeur.”
You will conjugate for me ten times the verb “I watch flies instead of listening to my teacher”

Ah! mon gaillard! Vous montrez votre derrière aux dames
Oi, matey! You are exposing your bottom to the ladies

C’est pour votre papa... Passez donc dans mon cabinet
It’s for your father... Come into the back room

Au secours! On me vole une côtelette
Help! Someone’s stealing a chop!

Par ordre du Sultan, vous avez vingt-quatre heures pour quitter la France
By order of the Sultan, you have twenty-four hours to leave France

Ah! bougre de salaud, tu m’as appelé vache
Ah! You filthy bastard, you called me a swine!

La voulez-vous cette belle broche
Would you like this pretty brooch?


Amateur Reader (Tom) said...

Fantastic. I'm going to just borrow a bit of this for a while. See "My Current Motto" at Wuthering Expectations.

Neil said...

Ha! Borrowing very much appreciated - though L'Assiette au Beurre (some people have plates of butter, some don't - is this fair?) may have recommended stealing... For those who get this far, Wuthering Expectations (link on the main page) is a great literary blog. I'm sorry I've been absent from it, and others (including my own), but sometimes life intervenes.

Roxana said...

i couldn't help laughing, even if the appropriate response would be crying (but as Duerrenmatt put it, pure tragedy isn't suited anymore for the modern soul, we need tragicomedy)...

good job with the translations, i only spotted a few typos in French, as "order" (i suppose this is the automatic correction for english :-) and "It [iL] est mort, entendu! mais était-il [united by that small line] ou non sur ma terre!

Neil said...

Glad you enjoyed them, Roxana - and thanks for the corrections; I've made them and a couple of others.

Jane said...

Vallotton knew just how much color each image needed aesthetically, but never enough to distract from what he wanted us to understand. What a treat to see all of these together.

Neil said...

I particularly love the red nose of the officer punching the woman on the cover image.