French art organisations respond to the Charlie Hebdo attacks


Portrait of Voltaire by Nicolas de Largillière, 1724-25. © RMN (Château de Versailles) / Franck Raux

As heads of state worldwide expressed their solidarity with the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, the French government promised to contribute financial aid towards the publication’s future. The culture minister Fleur Pellerin pledged on TV channel France 5 to “urgently unblock” around €1m in funding to “ensure the longevity” of Charlie Hebdo. She confirmed to Agence France-Presse that the ministry would alter legislation that prevents satirical publications from receiving government support.

Paris will create a festival of international illustration to turn the dream of the murdered Charlie Hebdo cartoonist Bernard “Tignous” Verlhac into a reality, the mayor Anne Hidalgo told France Info radio. She said the event could be organised in partnership with two of the city’s art and design schools: the École Boulle and the École Estienne, where Tignous and his Charlie Hebdo colleague Jean Cabut, known as Cabu, trained. The city council voted unanimously to name Charlie Hebdo an “honorary citizen” last week.

A petition to award Charlie Hebdo the main prize at the forthcoming Angoulême International Comics Festival (29 January-1 February) gathered around 1,600 signatures, but the idea has been rejected by the festival’s organisers and representatives from the magazine also opposed the plan. The organisers told Le Figaro that it would undermine the prize’s democratic and international scope, since nearly 2,000 artists from around the world have already cast their votes. Instead, the festival has launched a new “Charlie Prize for Freedom of Expression”. The organiser of the annual event in southwestern France, which gets around 200,000 visitors, also say they will increase its security in the wake of last week’s attacks.

The château of Versailles has responded to the attacks with a more traditional French figure of freedom: Voltaire, whose 1763 Treatise on Tolerance is on the bestseller list in France since last week’s events, according to Le Figaro. Voltaire’s portrait, painted by Nicolas de Lagarillière between 1724-25, now greets visitors in the papal hall with his quote “What is tolerance? It is the consequence of humanity” written in French and English. The château’s president Catherine Pégard explained to Le Figaro that “invoking the French spirit and freedom of expression” was a reflexive reaction to the attacks. Versailles also posted an online portrait gallery of Voltaire and other French figures who have ardently defended freedom of expression, including his adversary Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Denis Diderot and Molière. A quote by Voltaire that opens this virtual display is even more pointed: “Let us support the freedom of the press. It is the grounds of all other freedoms, that by which we are mutually enlightened.”

Meanwhile, the Bibliothèque Kandinsky at the Centre Pompidou has organised a spontaneous exhibition in its print room on Charlie Mensuel, the monthly comic published in Paris during the 1970s and 1980s that inspired the name Charlie Hebdo.


By Hannah McGivern and Victoria Stapley-Brown