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Now on Display in the Biddle Law Library: “Law Triumphant” and the Dreyfus Affair

January 12, 2009


Happy 2009!

To ring in the new semester and the new year, the Biddle Law Library has a couple of new exhibits in our reference area and the Rare Book seminar room.

Violet Oakley’s Law Triumphant

In our main exhibit case is displayed selected plates from Violet Oakley’s Law Triumphant.  A native Philadelphian, Oakley studied painting at the Drexel Institute for Women (now Drexel College).  She was heavily influenced by the symbolism and optimism of the Pre-Raphelite era. 

Oakley became famous for a series of 43 murals painted in 1905 in the Pennsylvania State Capitol Building in Harrisburg.  Each mural depicted some of the major figures in the development of the law, from Moses to Blackstone to William Penn.  Oakley is arguably the finest woman muralist, and her murals for the State Capital remain her signature commission. 

In the 1930s, Oakley published Law Triumphant, which included color plates of her murals.  A limited edition, only 300 copies of Law Triumphant were published.  The Biddle Law Library is fortunate enough to own two copies, and they are on display now.

Le Petit Journal Covers the Dreyfus Affair

The remainder of our exhibit space has been devoted to images from The Dreyfus Affair, a political scandal that rocked Paris in the late 19th century and early 20th centuries.  Regarded as the major political and cultural event of the era, the Dreyfus Affair also touched on a range of legal issues, including the separation of church and state, libel and religious freedom.

Our exhibition presents the Dreyfus Affair through the lens of one particular contemporary perspective: the pages of Le Petit Journal. This newspaper was in popular circulation in Paris during the Dreyfus Affair, taking advantage of innovations in color printing to publish colorful, full-page illustrations.  Le Petit Journal was very much part of the media frenzy surrounding the Dreyfus Affair, publishing daily articles and illustrations depicting some of the main characters of the saga, including Emile Zola, Paul Deschanel, Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy, and Alfred Dreyfus himself. 

The exhibition begins in the reference area and continues in the Rare Book Seminar room.  We hope you enjoy this glimpse into the Biddle Law Library’s impressive Special Collections, and we look forward to bringing you more in 2009.