L’art en guerre. France, 1938–1947: From Picasso to Dubuffet
March 16, 2013 – September 8, 2013
The Conqueror (Le Conquérant), 1942
Oil on fake leather glued on cardboard
89 x 59.5 cm
Private collection, France
“Creation during those difficult times was original, and sought to resist and bypass fear. Because one cannot always respond head-on to violence, to the monumentality of war and ideologies, by grandiose works.”  Fabrice Hergott
Joseph Steib (b. 1898, Mulhouse, Haut-Rhin, France; d. 1966, Brunstatt Haut-Rhin, France) worked as a municipal employee for the City of Mulhouse Water Department until the beginning of the 1940s when he resigned due to ill health.  By that time, he was also an enlightened amateur artist.  At the beginning of the war and the German invasion, Steib changed his style dramatically and began painting several dozen pictures that even frightened his wife. 
Steib painted to show his opposition to German dictator Adolf Hitler and his generals; the abusive Nazi regime; the daily humiliation suffered under the interim occupation authority in France established by the German army during World War II (1940–44); and for his desire to see the return of the French Republic. In his paintings he was telling the story of the everyday oppressed population, the mortification and atrocities that he was seeing, and also providing details on the uses of Nazi propaganda.
Hitler became Steib’s favorite subject matter. In his painting The Conqueror (La Conquérant) (1942), Steib transforms the cult personality of the Führer into an animalized, monstrous figure. He created a painting full of messages and symbols about the Nazi regime, placing birds that escape from Hitler’s eyebrows, ears that produce strange droppings, a swastika made out of two snakes, and even a pig upside-down to depict the chin and mouth. On the bottom to the right of the painting Steib placed a palette with brushes. A brush is also found above, worn as a tie. Steib painted these elements as symbols referencing the fact that Hitler failed the entrance examination for Vienna’s Academy of Fine Arts in 1907 and 1908. 
Steib kept on painting and condemning what he was witnessing until Hitler’s death and the imminent demise of his regime. With the release of Alsace and France, an atmosphere of creativity and freedom emerged. A few months after the liberation, he exhibited more than fifty works of vivid scenes in the town hall of Brunstatt, under the name The Salon of Dreams (Le Salon des rêves). They reflected his wishful thinking, flitting between anger, hope, and satire. He included in The Salon of Dreams all the paintings he produced clandestinely between 1939 and 1944. 
1. Hergott, Fabrice. Foreword, L’Art en Guerre, France, 1938–1947. De Picasso à Dubuffet. Exh. cat. Paris: Editions Paris Musées, 2012
4. Le Point Newspaper online. Jaulie Malaure. Le Conquerant ou Hitler ridiculise Steib, c’est bien. Published 09/11/2012
5. Ian Kershaw, In Hitler 1889-1936: Hubris. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2000
6. Musées de la Ville de Strasbourg. Joseph Steib et Le Salon des revês exhibition
Look closely at Steib’s painting. Describe this artwork as thoroughly as possible. What do you see? If you had to explain the painting to someone who cannot see it, how would you describe it?
This is Steib’s portrait of German dictator Hitler. What can we learn about what the artist thought of Hitler by looking at his pose, expression, and the way he is dressed? What can you tell about his personality? Make a list of adjectives that you would use to describe this character. Analyze and mimic his gesture. What intent and message do you think the artist wanted to transmit? If we could hear Hitler speaking, what would he say? Have your students find a photograph of Hitler and compare it with the painting.
What features are simplified or exaggerated in order to communicate a mood or feeling? How would you describe the mood or the character of this painting?
Look with your students at a variety of portraits together and compare them with Steib’s painting. Discuss the many ways in which artists can visually represent character traits. Analyze the difference between realistic traits and exaggerated ones that are used symbolically and talk about how artists can choose exaggerated traits to communicate a particular idea or emotion. Compare Steib’s portrait of Hitler with the other artists’ portraits. How are they similar to or different from Steib’s?
Ask your students to create a list of their interests, hobbies, prized possessions, and important moments in their life. Then, with this list in mind, have the students create a symbolic self-portrait by using symbols to represent their own personality, abilities, and likes. When they finish, display the portraits and ask students to discuss with the class what choices they made and why.
Steib witnessed important social and political events: two world wars, the Nazi occupation of France, and the Holocaust. These major world events (listed below) had a direct impact on his life. Research the following events and their influence on world history. Encourage your students to create a timeline to display the events in each period and present it to the class.
· 1914–18: World War I
· 1933–45: The Holocaust
· 1939–45: World War II
· 1940–44: German occupation of France
Führer: German word meaning leader or guide; now most associated with Hitler.
Portrait: An artistic representation of a person in which the face and its expression are predominant; the intent is to display the likeness, personality, and even the mood of the person.
Salon: In 19th-century France, the Salons were major exhibitions that introduced the pubic to new and established artists.
Satire: A genre of visual art that uses humor, irony, ridicule, and/or caricature to expose or criticize someone or something.
Symbolic: Something that represents or stands for something else, either in pictorial or textual form.
Swastika: An equilateral cross with four arms; an ancient symbol adopted by the Nazi Party of Germany in 1920.
Emmanuel Guigon, Fabrice Hergot, Tomi Ungerer, Sarkis, Georges Sebbag, François Petry. Joseph Steib, Le salon des revês. 2006: Musees De Strasbourg, Expositions-dossiers edition.
Fuentes, Vilma. “Joseph Steib: Sueños y pesadillas,” La Jornada Newspaper, April 30, 2006
Musées de la Ville de Strasbourg. Joseph Steib et Le Salon des revês exhibition
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Holocaust Encyclopedia
Yad Vashem: World center for documentation, research, education, and commemoration of the Holocaust