The Transatlantic Race

The Transatlantic Race

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Title: Compagnie Générale Transatlantique "France".

Author : SEBILLE Albert (1874 - 1953)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 0.792 - Width 0

Technique and other indications: Colored lithograph.

Storage location: MuCEM website

Contact copyright: ADAGP © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - J.-G. Berizzi

Picture reference: 05-513829 / 735455F

Compagnie Générale Transatlantique "France".

© ADAGP Photo RMN-Grand Palais - J.-G. Berizzi

Publication date: September 2008

Historical context

The Transatlantic Race

The last third of the XIXe century saw the triumph of speed at sea thanks to the mastery of steam, then to the invention of increasingly powerful engines. The stake is economic: at a time of colonial empires and the development of new worlds in America and Oceania, it is necessary to be able to transport a lot, far and quickly. Traditional mistress of the seas, Great Britain saw its lead melt away and its adversary change face: at the dawn of the XXe century, it is no longer France, but Germany which challenges its leadership. However, the geographical position of the new European power is a handicap which leaves the French and the British to wage a merciless battle for liaison with the United States - the new commercial El Dorado and land of emigration for millions of Europeans.

On April 20, 1912, when the France (one week after the sinking of the Titanic), the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique founded in 1855 by the Pereire brothers has served the transatlantic lines, such as between Le Havre and New York, for more than fifty years, thanks to a postal contract with the French State. This boat is the second of the name: the first, fitted out in 1864, had since been overtaken by important technical developments which made it possible in particular to cross the Atlantic Ocean in seven days. Thanks to Burgundy which reached this speed in 1886, the Company then prevailed over its competitors in the lucrative field of mail delivery. Reclaiming the transatlantic market therefore involves launching the largest boat ever built in the country: the France.

Image Analysis

"France" in majesty

The painter Albert Sébille (1874-1953) produced many images of liners, in particular those of the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique - for English speakers, the "French Line ". The staging of France, realistic, is less impressive (or grandiloquent!) than the one chosen to showcase interwar ships like the Paris or theIle-de-France. This is not an advertising poster - it would necessarily indicate the name of the line served, the days of departure and the prices - but a lithograph for undoubtedly more private use, a painting to offer. The composition, sober and organized horizontally, is centered on the liner itself, recognizable at the time even without subtitles: it was indeed the only one of the French fleet to have four chimneys, because it was equipped with four turbines. expanding. This made it one of the fastest transatlantic, with the Lusitania and the Mauretania of the Cunard.

The France occupies the middle third of the image and leaves its mark on the other two thirds: the sky is cut by the ship, the sea is split by its speed; the flowing smoke responds to the double wave raised by the bow. The details are meticulously rendered: you can clearly see the huge anchor and even passengers leaning on the rail; we especially note the presence of many lifeboats: the France prided itself on having enough for all its passengers ... France just left New York Harbor here. To the extreme right of the liner appear the contours of the city and those of the Brooklyn Bridge, inaugurated in 1883. To the extreme left stands the Statue of Liberty, its back turned to the American metropolis to better look towards the sea. 'Europe.


The symbol of Europe before the crisis

The France was to be called "Picardy", but was renamed in extremis to better ensure its nascent prestige. The launch of this imposing steel liner weighing more than 23,000 tons coincides with a desire to reconquer a market where the giants of the seas, such as the Titanic. This vessel of the White Star Line, with a tonnage of 45,000 tons, had been wrecked a few days before the France set sail, broken in its rush at speed by a drifting iceberg. As to Lusitania, another competitor on the ocean, she was sunk in 1915 by torpedoes from German submarines, an event that would help to turn American opinion around for the war in Europe.

During the Great War, like many ships of the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique, the France used to transport troops, then hospital ship. After the conflict, it regained its former luxury, to the point where it was nicknamed the "Versailles of the seas". But the France is decommissioned in 1932, victim of the crisis and especially of the comparison with the new floating palaces. After having been the field of a European battle, the link between Europe and the United States is gradually becoming the preserve of the Americans: the transatlantic journey has changed direction.

  • United States
  • Statue of Liberty
  • sea
  • boat

To cite this article

Alexandre SUMPF, "The Transatlantic Race"

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