Adolphe-Léon Willette: promotion and denunciation of alcohol

Adolphe-Léon Willette: promotion and denunciation of alcohol

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  • The Voluntary Slave.

    WILLETTE Adolphe (1857 - 1926)

  • Champagne Mumm.

    WILLETTE Adolphe (1857 - 1926)


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Title: Champagne Mumm.

Author : WILLETTE Adolphe (1857 - 1926)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0

Technique and other indications: Advertising insert reissued as a poster for Mumm champagne.

Storage location: Private collection

Contact copyright: © Private collection - All rights reserved

© Private collection - All rights reserved

Publication date: January 2006

Historical context

In 1872, in the aftermath of the Commune disaster and the great social fear that ensued, several anti-alcoholic leagues were created. They strengthen and multiply in the last years of the XIXe century. Like many other artists, Adolphe-Léon Willette, regular collaborator of To laugh, of The Butter Plate, of French courier, among others, will be brought to work for both alcoholics and temperance leagues.

Image Analysis

As witnessed The Volunteer Slave, the worker is the main target of alcoholism prevention campaigns. Looking at his clothing - neglected, patched up and dirty - the man, to whom the text at the bottom of the image is addressed by familiarity with him, is a mason, and therefore perhaps a migrant or a foreigner. Alone in a stunner, he drinks a brandy that has been distilled in the still drawn in the background. Chained to the bar, sliding irremediably downwards, he rocks grotesquely, he has absent eyes, and his cap, screwed up askew, is topped with a halo of mist, as if to prove that these industrial spirits cause rapid drunkenness and stupefaction . Served by a boy with a skull, these adulterated beverages also seem to be the privileged vectors of disease, alienation and tuberculosis.

The advertisement for Mumm champagne is quite simply the reverse of the anti-alcohol poster. A young and pretty drinker, scantily clad in white muslins and standing erect, prepares to grab a cup crowned with stars. It is served by an angel whom she looks straight in the eyes and whose tricolor wings recall both the French flag and the red cordon, emblem of the brand with the green bottle. Everything in the image, up to Saint Peter who closes the door to paradise, connotes the divine and aerial character of the drink.


Adolphe Willette translates the drinking beliefs of the time here. For him, as for the doctors of the second half of the XIXe century and the Belle Époque, alcoholism merges with acute drunkenness, and drunkenness is contracted exclusively through the abuse of grain brandy, not through the absorption of fermented, natural and hygienic. In fact, depending on the order made for them to promote or denounce alcohol, the artists show positive (gastronomic, bourgeois, healthy, friendly) or negative (drug addict, popular, morbid, lonely) drinking.

From the 1840s, some "humanists" denounced these stereotypes which confused addiction and drunkenness. But their speech, which displeases because it denounces worldly chronic alcoholism, is not heard. It was not taken up by doctors who were members of the anti-alcoholic leagues until the interwar period. In these two drawings, Willette also expresses the ambient paternalism. The advertising insert responsible for promoting Mumm champagne, reserved for the elites, is without caption. Conversely, the poster intended for the "worker" includes a long moralizing text and criticizes the "sublime" (a term which designates the Parisian worker, gifted, but boastful, alcoholic and ultimately lost by his faults) that she talks about. and considers it a grown-up to be not only a bad husband and a bad father, but also a bad citizen, a spendthrift and poorly educated. As we can see, while seeking to fight against drunkenness, the leagues attempt to secure the worker to his family and the family to the factory. On the other hand, unlike the associations which preceded them, they no longer equate cafes with places where revolutions are fomented, but with stuns preventing the "working class" from educating itself and "developing intellectually" in order to of his emancipation.

  • alcoholism
  • cafes
  • workers
  • publicity
  • The Butter Plate
  • Prohibition
  • working class


Suzanna BARROWS, Distorting mirrors, Paris, Aubier, 1991.Didier NOURRISSON, The 19th Century Drinker, Paris, Albin Michel, coll. "L’Aventure humaine", 1990. Myriam TSIKOUNAS, "Le discours alcoologique en France (1873-1918)", in Notebooks of the Scientific Research Institute on Beverages, n ° 10, 1991, p.43-57 French committee of education for health (C.F.E.S.), 130 years of alcohol prevention in France. 1870-2000, Paris, Ed. of C.F.E.S., 2000.

To cite this article

Myriam TSIKOUNAS, "Adolphe-Léon Willette: promotion and denunciation of alcohol"

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