L'Assiette au Beurre
often devoted a whole issue to a specific topic. Here, the topic is the corruption involved in the marketing of milk that is unfit for consumption, and the public health consequences of this trade. The front cover explains that the proceeds from the sale of this special triple-sized issue will go to benefit the "Ligue pour la Défense de la Vie humaine."
The topic of milk adulteration was not new in 1902, or confined to France.
and others had been outraged about it in the United States at least half a century earlier. For this particular issue of the magazine [February, 1902] all the artist "collaborateurs" contributed.
A selection from the 48 pages of images and captions from the original special issue is presented here. Each image deals with some aspect of the adulteration of milk -- milk that has been watered down, milk from sick and dying cows -- and its consequences -- the deaths of countless babies.
The artists often provide dark, essentially absurd humor, to aid in the exploration of the more serious and otherwise grotesque aspects of the subject. Close attention is paid to the depiction of body language; a wealth of subtle detail and lively composition enriches the story each image relates (for example, see left
: both the stance and the placement of the husband in the Wély image
The work is listed in the same order as found in the original issue, beginning with a drawing by Adolphe Willette
on the inside front cover.
Select the artist's name
in the list below to see the image described. Return to this page using the browser 'back' button. More accurate and/or more fully translated captions are anticipated, but meanwhile, corrections are welcome. Mail to email@example.com
- Adolphe Willette: True ugliness? Here it is.
Camille Lefèvre: -- When he sees a woman dipping sewer water into her baby's bottle, the owner of a dairy asks her if she is crazy. She replies that what she is adding to the bottle is cleaner than the milk he sells.
- Charles Léandre: LE MAUVAIS LATIER ET LA BONNE LAITIÈRE -- a double page spread, the 'dairy of death' on its way in to Paris; the weeping cow, surrounded by fat and healthy babies in the countryside, a funeral procession in the far distance.
Abel Faire: -- It only remains for us to falsify the cows.
Heidbrinck: -- Pay me 10,000 francs more and I'll give you the secret of how to make 3,000 liters of milk a day with just one cow!
Jacques Villon: -- A soldier mistakes the milkman and his jugs for a fellow artillery gunner, carrying shells.
H. Gerbault: RÉGIME LACTÉ -- The invalid is assured of the security of this milk: the wet nurse's breasts have been officially sealed.
Wély: LES VRAIS COMPLICES -- Parents on their way out for the evening are stopped by the nurse who tells them the baby has vomited his milk, again. The mother replies in annoyance that it is the baby who poisons their existence.
Huard: -- After 35 years of being in the business of selling milk to Paris, one develops a taste for its charms.
Felix Vallaton: Worried mother speaking to doctor:
-- [But] Doctor, this is guaranteed milk (i.e., pure).
-- Only one drop, and I say no more.
Capiello: The only true, unique producer of true [reliable] milk: mother's milk.
Noël Dorville: UN FRÈRE...! -- Aha! It appears that we are in the same business.
Mirande: LES PETITS MOISE (The little Moses) -- Fishing a baby in a basket out of the river, the rescuer is told, you may save him from the water, but you won't save him from the milk.
Gosé: LA DÉNATURALISATION DE L'EAU PAR LE LAIT -- a decorative double page spread showing the cow herd pouring milk into the milk jug, and the milkmaid pouring water, effectively adulterating the water with the milk, for a change of perspective on the problem.
Benjamin Rabier: LE SUICIDE -- The man attempting suicide explains he prefers milk to the pistol, because it is more certain.
Michel: MORT AUX VACHES!
L. Métivet: LE FATAL CONTREPOISON -- The man explains with a wink to the doctor that his mother-in-law was poisoned, and that he administered a cup of milk, as an antidote. The doctor understands, and assures him she is as good as gone.
Th. A. Steinlen
: -- Rather, bless the dairys, for what lives would otherwise await the children of the poor. [see also other work by Steinlen]
Jossot: -- "Doctor, the milk diet hasn't succeeded. Put me back on the absinthe!" [Absinthe was not known for its curative powers; the old man is trying to end it all].
- Louis Morin: LA VACHE ENRAGÉE DES TOUT PETITS -- Like an allegory, the Enraged Cow of every baby's worst nightmare.
Grandjouan: Milkman in dark of night cursing because he cannot open the public faucet marked "Water Not for Drinking" in order to dilute his milk supply. Note the image framed in the shape of a milk can.
- Vogel: -- Minister awarding the dairyman a medal: Sir, you are not a chemist -- you are an honest man. The analysis of your product shows 95% pure water and 5% cow's milk, a mixture that will never poison anyone. You have done a service to humanity and the State wishes to give you something. Here (and to the sound of applause, the medal is received).
Henri Boutet: LE BAIN DE LAIT -- Bathing in milk is the only way it can be consumed without poisoning.
- Burret: AU PALAIS BOURBON -- You demand exemplary measures against these adulterers who are poisoning the nation? I have made an analysis of the milk of this buvette (bar or kiosk), and it is excellent.
Kupka: -- upper image: Are those the thieves?
-- lower image: The two boys, who had been milking the cows directly explain to the magistrate that the milk they took was for their sick brother, the implication being that once in the hands of the dairies, it becomes adulterated.
-- Milkman as skeleton tips his hat to a child's funeral procession.
Delannoy: VACHES & VACHES -- The police oversee some too much and others not enough.
-- newspaper clipping re: tubercular cows -- The cows of Paris never get fresh air and never go out. In time, these cows become tubercular but nevertheless the dairies continue to market the milk of sick beasts. Les Journaux
[*]Note the word play here and in the Grün drawing below: vaches also refers to prostitutes and cops, in 19th century Parisian slang, and that's why the title is 'vaches et vaches' (cops and prostitutes, as on the image) and also why the comment 'la police surveille trop les unes et pas assez les autres' refers to 'some', i.e. the prostitutes, like the young lady encircled by the three cops on the image. The reference to tuberculosis is not neutral, as the women were most of the time sick after spending so much time on the streets. It was a very common source of death for them, apart from sexual diseases. [*]thanks for this information to Dominique Lagorgette, who is writing a history of French insults]
Paul Iribe: RIVALES -- A woman is certain that her hostess, a rival in love, is attempting to poison her with the polite offer of milk for her tea
- Paul Ballurian: LA CHIMI AUX ABOIS -- The chemist to the butcher: What does it take to make pure milk? Some grass, some phosphates, some albumine and some organic materials, and finally... Finally, a cow!
- Caran d'Ache: UNE DÉPOSITION ÉCRASANTE -- What's all this, asks the judge, holding the milk container for the cow to examine. The cow, who looks with disgust at what is in the container replies, I know nothing of this, Your Honor. [See also the work of Caran d'Ache in Le Rire]
- Döes: While the milk maid fills the milk jugs with water, the dairy farmer reminds her not to forget to reserve some milk [without water] for the inspector. Note the bag of gypsum ('plâtre'), which was used to disguise the watered down product.
- Emmanuel Barcet: GLORIA VICTIS! -- The milk seller pauses in his adulterations in respect for one of his young victims.
- Weiluc: LES FAISEURS D'ANGES (The makers of angels) -- As his wife stands in the doorway of their milk and egg shop, blocking the view from the street, the owner dilutes the milk he will then label and sell as 'pure.'
-- from a newspaper report: the latest statistics indicate that the mortality rate of our infants is stupefying, and according to the celebrated Doctor X, the cause is attributable to the adulterers of milk.
- Zier: PRÉMÉDITATION ÉTABLIE (premeditation established) -- District attorney: ...and finally, gentlemen, the autopsy has revealed traces of milk in the organs of the victim...
- Grün: Woman tells her customer that at the moment, she sells milk from the Saint-Lazare prison, since all her cows have been taken into custody [presumably because they are tubercular].
[*] St Lazare was a jail for women, in central Paris, just near a very famous prostitution area (rue d'Amsterdam, and not far from Pigalle) and many prostitutes were in captivity there, hence the reference to the milk coming from that prison (where many single mothers were also detained). [*] As with the Delannoy image above, thanks to Dr. Dominique Lagorgette for this insight.
Cadel: -- [back cover image] General Kitchener meets a milkman, and acknowledges the far greater slaughter wrought by the contents of the milk cans, in comparison to his conventional weapons.