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Dictionary of Art and Artists


The World Wars and Interwar Period 



The first half of the 20th century saw the world entangled in two global wars, conducted with an unprecedented brutality. The First World War developed from a purely European affair into a conflict involving the colonies and the United States. It altered Europe's political landscape and shifted the power balance worldwide. In World War II, the nations of Europe, Asia, the Americas, and Africa were drawn into the conflict through the aggressive policies of an ambitious Nazi Germany. The war was conducted with the most up-to-date weapons technology and cost the lives of more than 55 million people. The Holocaust, the systematic annihilation of the European Jews, represented an unparalleled moral catastrophe for modern civilization.


Pablo Picasso "Weeping Woman", 1937




France: Insecurity and Occupation 



Despite victory in World War I, France still felt threatened by its German neighbor. Politically unstable at home and weakened by the war, France initially saw its security as guaranteed only through the pursuit of a "harsh course" against its "traditional enemy." However, in the face of Hitler's aggressive power politics in the 1930s, France seemed almost paralyzed. After the Blitzkrieg in 1940, the German army occupied the north of France and the French Vichy regime collaborated with the Germans.


Turbulence in Domestic Affairs between the Wars

Despite numerous changes of government and economic tension, the antidemocratic movements in the Third Republic were unable to seize power.


1 In the period between the wars, France had to struggle domestically against the economic, financial, and social consequences of the Great War.

The war had cost the lives of about ten percent of the adult male population, in addition to the 4,270,000 wounded. However, in comparison to Great Britain and Russia , France remained relatively stable economically and remained a leading continental power with increased territories. During the 1920s French industrial production grew significantly with state support.

Eventually the effects of the worldwide economic depression reached France, albeit later than in the fully industrialized nations as its 3 agrarian sector was still very large.

The number of unemployed began to rise in 1931, which shook the stability of the Third Republic. The administrations came and went as if through a revolving door—a total of 41 times by 1940.

The few senior ministers who remained in office, such as Raymond Poincare and 2 Edouard Daladier, provided the only elements of continuity in the leadership.

In 1924, the right-wing Bloc National governed with a majority; a leftist socialist reform cartel then took power for two years. Meanwhile, disagreements between the moderate parties strengthened both left- and right-wing radicalism.

1 Victory celebrations in Paris, 1919

3 French farmer with horse-drawn
plow in the 1940s

2 Edouard Daladier making
a radio address to the French
people, 1938

The Communists consistently won about ten percent of the votes in the 5 elections, but never really posed a threat to established policies.

Right-wing antidemocratic radical groups such as the Action Francaise and Croix du Feu (Cross of Fire), an organization of World War I veterans, gained influence in the 1930s; the latter attempted à 4 coup in February 1934 but it quickly fizzled out.

In 1936, Socialist prime minister 6 Leon Blum organized and led the leftist Popular Front—a coalition of the Socialists, Radical Socialists, and Communists—in order to avert the rise of a fascist regime like that in Italy.

Among other popular reforms, he introduced the 40-hour working week and entitlement to paid holidays.

5 Election posters

4 Coup attempt in Paris, February 1934

6 Leon Blum (left) with the leader of the Communists



Between Retribution and Appeasement: France's Foreign Policy up to 1939

The fear of renewed German aggression fundamentally determined French foreign policy between the wars.


In the peace negotiations of 1919, France believed its national security could be fulfilled only through the maximum territorial and economic weakening of Germany.

In the Versailles Treaty, France was awarded Alsace-Lorraine, German colonies such as Cameroon, the occupation and economic exploitation of the 7 Saarland, and a large share of reparations.

7 Foreign soldiers guard the elections of the
referendum in the Saarland concerning a return
to the German administration

In addition to the agreed reduction of the German army to 100,000 men and the abolition of the General Staff, France demanded the complete demilitarization of the Rhineland to serve as a buffer zone.

Due to the growing differences among the other Allies and the lack of a military security guarantee from (he United States, which had retreated into extreme isolationism, France pursued an intransigent reparations policy at the beginning of the 1920s—despite the German Reich's inability to meet the immense demands.

French president 9 Poincare ordered the occupation of the 10 Ruhr, Germany's industrial center, on January 23,1923, to enforce the payment of reparations, over the objections of the United States and Great Britain.

The new leftist government of 1924 introduced a conciliatory policy of rapprochement toward Germany, however, and because of the population's 8 passive resistance the Ruhr was evacuated in 1925.

9 Raymond Poincare

10 French soldier guarding a
confiscated coal wagon, 1923

8 German poster calling for passive
resistance under the slogan:
"No! You won't make me do this!" 1923

11 Munich Agreement; Daladier
signs Hitler's guestbook, 1938

Germany guaranteed the inviolability of her Western borders with France and Belgium in the Locarno Pact of 1925.

France attempted to counter Nazi Germany's aggressive power politics that began in 1933 with a system of international alliances, including the 1935 mutual assistance pact with the Soviet Union and the Anglo-French military alliance. Under the influence of Great Britain, and because of divisions within the Popular Front government. France pursued a policy of appeasement toward Germany in 1938.

Prime Minister Daladier and Foreign Minister Bonnet tolerated the annexation of Austria and signed the 11 Munich Agreement.

The French policy of appeasement, reflecting the desire of both leaders and people to avoid another war, continued until the invasion of Poland.




Munich agreement

Chamberlain, Daladier, Hitler, Mussolini, and Ciano pictured before signing the Munich Agreement.

Daladier, Hitler and Mussolini; Daladier and Hitler

Hitler and Mussolini

Europe [1938]

(Sept. 30, 1938), settlement reached by Germany, Great Britain, France, and Italy that permitted German annexation of the Sudetenland in western Czechoslovakia. After his success in absorbing Austria into Germany proper in March 1938, Adolf Hitler looked covetously at Czechoslovakia, where about 3,000,000 people in the Sudeten area were of German origin. It became known in May 1938 that Hitler and his generals were drawing up a plan for the occupation of Czechoslovakia. The Czechoslovaks were relying on military assistance from France, with which they had an alliance. The Soviet Union also had a treaty with Czechoslovakia, and it indicated willingness to cooperate with France and Great Britain if they decided to come to Czechoslovakia’s defense, but the Soviet Union and its potential services were ignored throughout the crisis.

As Hitler continued to make inflammatory speeches demanding that Germans in Czechoslovakia be reunited with their homeland, war seemed imminent. Neither France nor Britain felt prepared to defend Czechoslovakia, however, and both were anxious to avoid a military confrontation with Germany at almost any cost. In mid-September, Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister, offered to go to Hitler’s retreat at Berchtesgaden to discuss the situation personally with the Führer. Hitler agreed to take no military action without further discussion, and Chamberlain agreed to try to persuade his Cabinet and the French to accept the results of a plebiscite in the Sudetenland. The French premier, Édouard Daladier, and his foreign minister, Georges Bonnet, then went to London, where a joint proposal was prepared stipulating that all areas with a population that was more than 50 percent Sudeten German be returned to Germany. The Czechoslovaks were not consulted. The Czechoslovak government initially rejected the proposal but was forced to accept it reluctantly on September 21.

On September 22 Chamberlain again flew to Germany and met Hitler at Godesberg, where he was dismayed to learn that Hitler had stiffened his demands: he now wanted the Sudetenland occupied by the German army and the Czechoslovaks evacuated from the area by September 28. Chamberlain agreed to submit the new proposal to the Czechoslovaks, who rejected it, as did the British Cabinet and the French. On the 24th the French ordered a partial mobilization: the Czechoslovaks had ordered a general mobilization one day earlier.

In a last-minute effort to avoid war, Chamberlain then proposed that a four-power conference be convened immediately to settle the dispute. Hitler agreed, and on September 29, Hitler, Chamberlain, Daladier, and the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini met in Munich, where Mussolini introduced a written plan that was accepted by all as the Munich agreement. (Many years later it was discovered that the so-called Italian plan had been prepared in the German Foreign Office.) It was almost identical to the Godesberg proposal: the German army was to complete the occupation of the Sudetenland by October 10, and an international commission would decide the future of other disputed areas. Czechoslovakia was informed by Britain and France that it could either resist Germany alone or submit to the prescribed annexations. The Czechoslovak government chose to submit.

Before leaving Munich, Chamberlain and Hitler signed a paper declaring their mutual desire to resolve differences through consultation to assure peace. Both Daladier and Chamberlain returned home to jubilant, welcoming crowds relieved that the threat of war had passed, and Chamberlain told the British public that he had achieved “peace with honour. I believe it is peace in our time.” Chamberlain’s policies were discredited the following year, when Hitler annexed the remainder of Czechoslovakia in March and then precipitated World War II by invading Poland in September. The Munich agreement became a byword for the futility of appeasing expansionist totalitarian states, although it did buy time for the Allies to increase their military preparedness.

Encyclopaedia Britannica

1. Germany occupies the Sudetenland (October 1938)
2. Poland occupies Zaolzie, an area with a Polish minority (October 1938).
3. Hungary occupies border areas (southern third of Slovakia and southern Carpathian Ruthenia)
with Hungarian minorities in accordance with the First Vienna Award (November 1938)
4. Carpathian Ruthenia receives autonomy.
5. In March 1939 the remaining Czech territories become the German satellite
Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.
6. From the remainder of Czechoslovakia Slovakia is created, becoming another German satellite.

Agreement concluded at Munich, September 29, 1938, between Germany, Great Britain, France and Italy

GERMANY, the United Kingdom, France and Italy, taking into consideration the agreement, which has been already reached in principle for the cession to Germany of the Sudeten German territory, have agreed on the following terms and conditions governing the said cession and the measures consequent thereon, and by this agreement they each hold themselves responsible for the steps necessary to secure its fulfilment:

(1) The evacuation will begin on 1st October.

(2) The United Kingdom, France and Italy agree that the evacuation of the territory shall be completed by the 10th October, without any existing installations having been destroyed, and that the Czechoslovak Government will be held responsible for carrying out the evacuation without damage to the said installations.

(3) The conditions governing the evacuation will be laid down in detail by an international commission composed of representatives of Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Italy and Czechoslovakia.

(4) The occupation by stages of the predominantly German territory by German troops will begin on 1st October. The four territories marked on the attached map will be occupied by German troops in the following order:

The territory marked No. I on the 1st and 2nd of October; the territory marked No. II on the 2nd and 3rd of October; the territory marked No. III on the 3rd, 4th and 5th of October; the territory marked No. IV on the 6th and 7th of October. The remaining territory of preponderantly German character will be ascertained by the aforesaid international commission forthwith and be occupied by German troops by the 10th of October.

(5) The international commission referred to in paragraph 3 will determine the territories in which a plebiscite is to be held. These territories will be occupied by international bodies until the plebiscite has been completed. The same commission will fix the conditions in which the plebiscite is to be held, taking as a basis the conditions of the Saar plebiscite. The commission will also fix a date, not later than the end of November, on which the plebiscite will be held.

(6) The final determination of the frontiers will be carried out by the international commission. The commission will also be entitled to recommend to the four Powers, Germany, the United Kingdom, France and Italy, in certain exceptional cases, minor modifications in the strictly ethnographical determination of the zones which are to be transferred without plebiscite.

(7) There will be a right of option into and out of the transferred territories, the option to be exercised within six months from the date of this agreement. A German-Czechoslovak commission shall determine the details of the option, consider ways of facilitating the transfer of population and settle questions of principle arising out of the said transfer.

(8) The Czechoslovak Government will within a period of four weeks from the date of this agreement release from their military and police forces any Sudeten Germans who may wish to be released, and the Czechoslovak Government will within the same period release Sudeten German prisoners who are serving terms of imprisonment for political offences.

Munich, September 29, 1938.






The Maginot Line

Draft of the subterranean bunker
complex of the Maginot Line

To protect themselves against a new German invasion, the French erected the Maginot Line between 1926 and 1936, a huge barrier of fortifications on the northeastern border with Germany.

It was named after the French minister of war and consisted of artillery and infantry emplacements, communications and bunker complexes that cost about three billion francs and was considered impregnable.

When war arrived, Nazi Germany simply avoided the fortifications by invading via neutral Belgium, and France surrendered within six weeks.

French bunker on the Maginot Line
destroyed by a German attack, 1940




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