Visiting Barcelona, I walk into Vinçon, a cutting edge design shop. I peruse glass cases of gadgets, gifts and housewares. “Well, this is awkward,” I think to myself as I come upon a display of art supplies featuring a box of Caran D’Ache color pencils. “Here I am, a Jewish customer, and they want to sell me a product whose brand is named in honor of- whose logo is, in fact, an adaptation of the actual signature of one of the most vilely anti-Semitic illustrators in recent history.
It’s a lot of drama for a nice set of pencils and no one else in the store seems aware.
I first learned that the name Caran D’Ache was related to something other than art supplies in 2006 when I visited the Museum of Jewish Art and History in Paris. They were showing “Alfred Dreyfus: The Fight for Justice,” an exhibition telling the story of the “The Dreyfus Affair,” 19th Century France’s biggest scandal, through artifacts, correspondence and the press.
A very brief summary of The Dreyfus Affair:
Alfred Dreyfus was a Jewish captain in the French army, and in 1894 he was accused of sending French military secrets to the Germans and subsequently convicted of treason and sentenced to life in prison. Soon after his conviction, evidence emerged that the real traitor was a French army officer, Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy. Esterhazy was tried and acquitted. Dreyfus was tried twice more and convicted twice more. Forgeries and suppression of evidence were involved in Dreyfus’s convictions. Eventually, all claims of Dreyfus’s guilt were disproved and in 1906 Dreyfus was exonerated and reinstated into the military.