From 1940, the Stalag VIII C in Silesia had nearly 50,000 prisoners of war, 7,500 of them were French. In this reputed "model" camp, some former students of the Beaux Arts gathered around the figure of the painter Jean-Henri Michel.?Impressed by the effervescence of the movement, the camp delegates authorized the ICRC to bring books, magazines and artistic material into the Stalaag. The German authorities even went so far as to encourage these artistic activities, which served as propaganda for the camps. By the end of 1941, these specific arrangements were abandoned while the sanitary conditions and the morale of the prisoners deteriorated.?During this short period, Jean Billon produced a large number of portraits of his fellow prisoners. Through the strength of the stroke and the vivacity of the colors, we are conveyed images that are both sober and incredibly vivid. ?« Tarnished braids, profession not applicable, lost or empty wallets, remain present: characters and bodies. Naked before hunger and the unknown… » PRISONER NUMBER 32.808
Repatriated to France with their author, this collection was presented in Lyon and Vichy in 1942 as part of the exhibition “Prisoners' Faces”. A year later, Doctor René Biot published a selection of these works in a typographical edition. Each plate is preceded by a card on which appears as the only information: the prisoner number, nationality and profession of the model. Images of the camp produced at the same time could have been added to this series. However, it seems that neither the artist nor the publisher chose to divert attention from these anonymous faces attempting to conjure up oblivion.
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