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This caricature by the artist known as SEM, dated 1927, humorously depicts a man traveling from New York to Paris inside a whale, with the caption, "Plus fort que Lindbergh! New-York - Paris en baleine..." which translates to "Stronger than Lindbergh! New York - Paris in a whale...". This illustration plays on Charles Lindbergh's famous non-stop solo transatlantic flight from New York to Paris in May 1927, a monumental achievement in aviation history.

In this image, the man, likely meant to represent a specific public figure, is shown tipping his hat as he emerges from a whale’s side, through a shuttered window! The whale, seemingly content and cooperative, spouts water in the air, adding to the whimsical nature of the scene. The distant outline of New York City and a transatlantic ship in the background serve as contextual anchors, emphasizing the oceanic voyage.

SEM, the pseudonym for Georges Goursat, was renowned for his satirical and humorous illustrations, often capturing the cultural and social nuances of his time. This caricature leverages the fantastical and mythological imagery of Jonah and the whale, humorously juxtaposed with the modern marvel of transatlantic flight. The artwork reflects the era's fascination with technological advancements while maintaining a playful, imaginative spirit.

The caricature not only serves as a playful commentary on Lindbergh's achievement but also exemplifies SEM's distinctive style—marked by clean lines, expressive characters, and a keen eye for satire. This piece is a testament to the interplay between myth and modernity, humorously bridging the gap between the ancient and contemporary worlds through the medium of art.

Rene-Georges Goursat (Sem) Biography

Georges Goursat (1863 – 1934), known as Sem, was a French caricaturist famous during the Belle Époque.

Georges Goursat was born and raised in an upper-middle-class family from Périgueux. The wealth inherited from his father at the age of 21 allowed him to sustain a gilded youth. In 1888, he self-published his first three albums of caricatures in Périgueux, signing some as "SEM," allegedly as a tribute to Amédée de Noé, who signed his caricatures for Le Monde illustré as "Cham."

From 1890 to 1898, Goursat resided in Bordeaux. During this period, he published more albums and his first press caricatures in La Petite Gironde and discovered the work of Leonetto Cappiello. His style matured, becoming both simpler and more precise. He also made trips to Paris, where in 1891, he designed two posters printed in Jules Chéret's workshop for the singer Paulus. He published his first caricatures of artists in L'Illustration (Albert Brasseur) and Le Rire (Paulus, Polin, and Yvette Guilbert).

Between 1898 and 1900, Goursat lived in Marseille, where he met Jean Lorrain, who convinced him to live in Paris. 

Goursat arrived in Paris in March 1900 at the time of the Universal Exposition opening. He chose horse racing as a way to enter high society. In June 1900, he self-published his new album Le Turf, which featured caricatures of many prominent Parisian socialites, including Marquess Boni de Castellane, Prince Trubetskoy, Count Clermont-Tonnerre, and Baron Alphonse, Gustave de Rothschild, and Polaire. The album's success made him famous overnight. In October 1900, he published the album Paris-Trouville with equal success. Goursat published nine other albums before 1913.

In 1904, Goursat received the Légion d'honneur. In 1909, he exhibited with the painter Auguste Roubille, first in Paris and then in Monte Carlo and London. The exhibit included a diorama composed of hundreds of wooden figurines "of all the merely Paris celebrities." 

Goursat was not drafted in World War I as he was over 50 years old at the start of the war. He nevertheless involved himself as a war correspondent for Le Journal. Some of his rather "chauvinistic" articles had an "enormous impact." Ten articles were published in 1917 in Un pékin sur le front. Two other articles were incorporated in the 1923 book La Ronde de Nuit. In 1916 and 1918, Goursat published two albums of Croquis de Guerre (War Sketches) with a completely different style than his previous work. He also designed war bond posters. 

After the war, Goursat returned to the kind of caricatures that made him famous. In 1919, he published Le Grand Monde à l'envers (High Society Upside Down). Around 1923, he published three albums under the general title of Le Nouveau Monde (The New World). In 1923, he became an officer of the Légion d'honneur.

In 1929, Goursat was severely impoverished by the economic crisis. After suffering a heart attack in 1933, he died in 1934.

Key Works:

  • Self-portrait (1888) (signed as "SEM")
  • Goursat's first poster (1891) for the singer Paulus
  • First caricatures in Le Rire (1897)
  • Caricature of various individuals playing roulette by Sem (1920)
  • Caricature of women on a boat being sailed by a sailor by Sem (1925)