L’Illustration, a Weekly Newspaper How It Was Done

Single page version

Front page of L'Illustration No. 53, March 2, 1844
Front page of L’Illustration No. 53, March 2, 1844

L’Illustration was a weekly French newspaper created just one year after the Illustrated London News, from which its publishers drew some of their inspiration. It met with great success throughout remainder of the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth, thanks to its editorial policy offering information about the world at large and, of course, to its dedication to let illustrations play a prominent part in the exposure of newsworthy events. It also managed to attract some of the most renowned artists and craftsmen of its time. The last issue to bear the original title was released in 1944.
On March 2, 1844, however, L’Illustration was celebrating its first birthday, and on this occasion it published the following article, entitled “Les mystères de L’Illustration.” Beside indulging in hyperbolic self-praise, it allowed readers to take a glimpse at what happened behind the scenes and to better understand the process which resulted in the illustrated newspaper spread out before their very eyes.

The Mysteries of L’Illustration

Let not this title frighten the most timid and delicate among you: don’t worry, dear subscribers, I merely want to let you know today how L’Illustration manages every week to solve the problem of existing. After showing you two of the three main action centers where the ideas which give it birth are conceived and carried out—namely, the editorial office, the engravers’ workshop, and the printing house—I wish, in very few words, to give you some little known details about the different intellectual and material operations through which the editors, artists, engravers and printers of your newspaper must take turns. If this matter is of no interest to you, don’t read what follows.

It was on March 4, 1843, (a day to be forever remembered) at three forty-seven, that the first issue of the first year of L’Illustration came out of its mother’s womb—Messrs Lacrampe & Company’s machine. Giving it birth had been long and laborious, but despite some apparent weakness, the newborn suggested a robust constitution and competent observers were not to be misled: they predicted its future would be long and glorious. What other prediction was accomplished more swiftly? Only just had it come into being that the young L’Illustration proved itself worthy of the beautiful name its family had given it. Before the end of its first month, it worked enough wonders to astonish the world. Never had a newspaper made so much progress in so little time. The great news spread with lightning speed from one end of the world to the other. In less than a year, L’Illustration truly became a universal newspaper*. Is it necessary to remind you of what it did to deserve its success?… If it wasn’t equally fortunate in every one of its endeavors, you must grant that it didn’t stop at any obstacle, that no sacrifice was too great. Besides, shouldn’t we forgive youth for its lack of experience and the few mistakes that came with it?

Wonder instead at its ability to offer you fifty-two issues as varied and thorough as those it presented you with during its first year, and ask me what means allowed it to achieve such an incredible result, for it is this question that I shall try to answer.

  • * L’Illustration was subtitled “Journal universel (Universal newspaper).” (Translator’s note)
  • Image source: L’Illustration vol. III. Paris: J.-J. Dubochet, 1844.