Joseph Lesage (1884-1918)
Soldier and artist in the First World War

Joseph Lesage

Joseph Lesage was born in Moret-sur-Loing (70 km South-East of Paris). He was the second of eight children. Being a talented draughtsman, young Joseph is admitted to the "Ecole des Arts Decoratifs" in Paris where he completed his studies very successfully. At 21 years of age he is accepted as a member of the famous "Salon des Artistes Francais". It is the start of a promising career. He exhibits in leading galleries in Paris, Reims and Lyon. As a result of his success he could afford to make working tours to Egypt, Italy, Belgium and Holland. In 1910 Joseph Lesage marries Mimy Cheysson. The young couple takes up residence at Marseille where, in 1911, their first daughter is born. Joseph specialises in watercolours and engravings. He is a dedicated worker and his paintings sell well; his little family is well taken care of.

In 1914 the war breaks out. Joseph is 30 years old and father of two little girls. As a reservist he is called up to join the 73rd Division of the Second Army, which is committed to the front near Nancy. Initially he is a standard-bearer, but in September 1914 he is appointed telephone-operator substituting a fallen comrade. The war takes a heavy toll on the Lesage family: Next to Joseph his four brothers are also sent to the front. After having lived through the first shock of the battlefield Joseph takes up drawing again. His drawings are published in several newspapers. Together with two comrades he starts, in 1915, the front paper "Le Mouchoir", which means that twice a month he has to deliver a series of illustrations. Notwithstanding this task he manages to participate in important exhibitions of drawings of front soldiers during 1916 and 1917.

After having survived all the battles and two shrapnel injuries, on 19 October 1918, Joseph Lesage dies of the "Spanish flu". This pandemic caused well over 20 million victims worldwide. The Armistice comes on 11 November, three weeks after his death. Joseph leaves behind his wife Mimy and their three little daughters Jeannette, Annie et Jacqueline.

Mimy destroyed the letters he sent her, because reading them broke her heart. However, Joseph's letters to his parents have been preserved. The quotes shown with the drawings are selected from Joseph's letters to his parents. These quotes are printed in italics. The combination of his drawings and quotes will bring you closer to the life experienced by a front soldier.