Home‎ > ‎

Censored Works

The Record of Prints and Photographs which were Denied 
Authorization for Publication in France 
by the Bureau de l'Imprimerie et de la Librairie.

Prepared for the Image of France -- at ARTFL.


The governmental censorship of publishing in France enacted by legislation of February, 1810, renewed in October, 1814, was responsible for most of the information contained in this resource, the Image of France. A fundamental purpose of compulsory legal deposit under these laws was the surveillance and consequent repression of publishing by means of legal procedure, rather than by the unilateral police action which had previously been the rule in France. However, the surveillance of printed imagery – engravings, woodcuts, etc. – was initially an afterthought, for this commerce was specifically set aside by the legislation 1810. The requirement of legal deposit for prints was imposed only by the means of a ministerial circular of later the same year, prior to the ordonnance of 24 Oct. 1814, pursuant to the law of 21 Oct. (see chronology of legislation on prints.)

In 1820, a further level of regulation affecting prints – and only prints – was enacted with the requirement of official governmental examination and approval before a work could be published, distributed or exhibited.  As finalized in the law of 25 March 1822 and its ordonnance of 1 May 1822: “Toute publication, vente ou mise en vente, exposition, distribution, sans l’autorisation préalable du gouvernement, de dessins gravés ou lithographiés, sera pour ce seul fait, punie d’un emprisonnement … et d’une amende … sans préjudice des poursuites auxquelles pourrait donner lieu le sujet du dessin.”  This rule of prior approval for the publication of prints was lifted in 1830, then reinstated with some further technicalities in 1835;  lifted again in 1848, it was reinstated a second time in 1852 and extended in jurisprudence to all media of printed imagery (e.g., photography);  it was finally abolished in 1881.  While compulsory legal deposit continued after this date – and continues today – it would no longer be considered a measure of police surveillance but rather a sort of tax on publication for the protection of copyright and support of the patrimony of the national library.

Throughout its history, the administration of prior approval of images was administered by the Bureau de l'Imprimerie et de la Librairie, alongside the procedure of legal deposit. After 1835, this administration yielded an interesting documentation: all published imagery was now subject to  examination before publication – illustrations in books and journals as well as separately issued prints  – and the examples denied approval were recorded in registers of which many survive today in the papers of the former Bureau at the Archives nationales de France. This page of the Image of France contains links to transcriptions of these registers, ANF F*18(VI) 48, F*18(VI) 133 and F*18(1) 28.   Their contents, approximately 790 listings, are also indexed following the listings from other sources in the general resource of the Image of France.  The transcriptions were made directly from the registers, which are not publicly accessible because of their condition, by Gervaise Brouwers and Mehdi Korchane during 2005-2006;  their work was made possible by the kindness of the conservateur of these documents, the late Patrick Laharie, and this presentation is therefore dedicated to his memory.

Please see this link for further information concerning the record of prints and photographs which were refused approval for publication.  Unfortunately, copies of the works themselves do not appear to have been conserved as a distinct collection; the listings record that some of them were modified and subsequently approved for publication. Several registers dating from the Second Empire appear to be missing.  It is possible, however, that no record of this kind was ever produced by the administration of the 1820's. Finally, it should be noted again that all of the registers of works refused authorization include illustrations for books and journals; before 1848, these listings were interspersed with the listings of other prints. Illustrations published in books and journals, on the other hand, were not included in the record of prints in the Bibliographie de la France, and so they are otherwise absent from the listings of the Image of France.

George McKee
2010; revised April 2012


Further information on refused prints

F*18(VI) 48
Dépôt des estampes et planches gravées non autorisées (1835-1847)



F* 18(VI) 133
Enregistrement des planches non autorisées, sans et avec texte



Enregistrement des estampes autorisées par ordre du conseiller





Subpages (21): View All