During World War I, banks were called upon to assist the French government in funding heavy military expenses. On the occasion of the 4th National Defence bond issued in 1918, they intensified their billboard campaigns and enjoined the population to contribute to the final war effort. An illustrated chronicle of 1918, a year of patriotic effervescence and a call to rebuild the country.
1918: a solemn appeal from the banks to the patriotism and solidarity of the people “at home”
The 4th bond; or Liberation bond, was voted on 19 September 1918 and subscribed before and after the armistice (20 October and 24 November). It would be the culmination of the incessant propaganda campaigns orchestrated by the forerunner banks of BNP Paribas. Their patriotic tone became even more insistent to stimulate the commitment and touch the hearts of the French people. The conflict had been carrying on for 4 years and the State needed funds to finance the final war effort. The banks enjoined households to back the front towards victory in this decisive period. Their branches were covered in posters with patriotic allegories and persuasive slogans. A famous example is the Alsace-Lorraine poster that the Comptoir National d’Escompte de Paris (CNEP), a forerunner of BNP, commissioned from the artist Auguste Leroux (1871-1954) in 1918. In response to the news that public billboard regulations were to be alleviated, the bank took the opportunity to give the poster popular exposure by posting it on the façade of 2 Place de l’Opéra in Paris, in an enlarged format of 6 by 4 metres. This ground-breaking initiative was lauded in Le Monde illustré of 2 November 1918.
A selection of propaganda posters by BNP Paribas forerunner banks distributed for the Liberation bond
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This poster, which encouraged people to subscribe to the “Liberation” bond, was the work of Belgian painter Michel Ricard Putz for Banque Nationale de Crédit (BNC), a BNP Paribas’ forerunner.
Its composition resembles that of its allegorical engraving, “those who stay behind”, a dramatic scene of the people fleeing from the country in flames.
For the last quarter hour… Help me!
This BNC poster was the work of Georges Goursat aka Sem (1863-1934), a French poster artist and cartoonist. A war correspondent between 1914 and 1918, he drew this poster featuring Marshall Foch. The slogan repeats the legendary words of his military action during the battle of the Marne.
The Comptoir National d’Escompte de Paris branch in Oloron (Pyrénées Atlantique), subscription day
Crowds flock to the CNP branch in Oloron to subscribe to the 4th National Defence bond. The façade of the branch prominently displays the famous Alsace-Lorraine poster that the bank commissioned from Auguste Leroux (1871-1954). To ensure the success of the issue, there were to be no bank charges, as the large banner running along the balcony proclaimed.
For victory, subscribe to the national bond !
With this BNC poster for the 4th National Defence bond, Georges Goursat aka Sem evokes the imminent victory of the Allies, symbolised by the Arc de Triomphe in the background. Beneath the arch, the armies of wars past march up to join the Poilus, while the statue of the Marseillaise seems to encourage them.
After the war, the banks mobilised capital for the reconstruction
France came out of the first world war weakened, devastated and debt-ridden. To recover from the war damage, reimburse its loans and revitalise the economy, the Government once again needed exceptional financial resources. The banks were again called upon to assist in the country’s reconstruction. In response to the new circumstances, they were to expand their regional presence and venture out towards new customer targets. The Banque Nationale de Crédit (1913-1932), a forerunner of BNP, distinguished itself with its strategy of regional presence and its assertive sales approach that was unusual in the banking world. In touch with the business and industrial environment, it scaled the ranks to become the 4th biggest depot bank in France.
In the aftermath of the war, the banks put their minds not only to draining household savings to back reconstruction bonds, but also to offering financing solutions to companies.
Selection of propaganda posters for reconstruction bonds distributed by forerunner banks of BNP Paribas
National bond of 1920
A forerunner of BNP Paribas, Banque Française pour le Commerce et l’Industrie (BFCI) was an international investment bank founded in 1901 by Maurice Rouvier. In 1922, it merged with the Banque Nationale de Crédit which specialised in the investment of National Defence bonds between 1915 and 1918.
This poster calls for subscriptions to the reconstruction bond issued in 1920.
Netional bond ofl 1920 – Banque Nationale de Crédit
Designed by poster artist Leonetto Cappiello, this poster of the Banque Nationale de Crédit (BNC), a forerunner of BNP, calls for participation in the National Bond of 1920 for reconstruction.
The horn of plenty pouring gold coins over the tricolour flag symbolises the economic prosperity of France that was to be restored. Farm workers can be seen in the background: they embody the recovery in economic activity.
National bond of 1920 – Banque Adam
This poster of Banque Adam, which was bought by a forerunner of BNP Paribas in 1937, was the work of poster artist and sculptor Charles-Albert Walhain (1877-1936). It follows the trend of other reconstruction posters. The fisherman and port in the background represent the recovery of economic activity in this region. They also evoke the bank’s attachment to the fishing port of Boulogne-sur-Mer.
1920 National Bond, subscribe
Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer (1865-1953), a French Symbolist painter, sculptor and ceramist, designed this poster in favour of borrowing for the reconstruction, on behalf of the Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas. It is an allegory of industrial and agricultural production, as well as trade. Indeed, in the background, we see a factory from which smoke escapes and in the foreground, we notice the presence of a rake, a pincers, a hammer and a crane symbolizing the recovery of economic activity.
25 million 6% bond issue – City of Albert, 1920-1921
With this poster, F. Galais, a French artist, invites to subscribe to the 25 million franc loan issued by the city of Albert to finance its reconstruction. Located in the Somme, in the middle of the battlefield, Albert is totally devastated by the conflict. The artist highlights on the poster the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Brebières, totally destroyed with its statue of the Virgin about to crash to the ground in April 1918.
Raise France from its ruins … Subscribe to the bond
Georges Goursat aka Sem (1863-1964) was a French cartoonist and poster artist. He designed four posters for BNC between 1914 and 1918. This one for the 1920 national bond shows a dismal scene. In the background, the image of Marianne lights up the surroundings to evoke the hope of reconstruction.
National loan 1920, subscribe – Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas
Francisque Poulbot (1879-1946) is a French artist, famous for his Parisian kids. He designed this poster for the Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas, a forerunner of Paribas. France is represented as a little girl with a torn dress in the middle of the ruins: the country is devastated but this child embodies the future of France.
French banks played a major role in financing the war effort through their capacity to ignite people’s patriotic fervour and invest national defence bonds. They gained the legitimacy to become natural stakeholders in the country’s reconstruction and expand their customer base. The fact that the Government mobilised savings for the reconstruction and the reimbursement of war bonds would however lead to tension when it came to financing the economy.