Gymnastics of the organs

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Organs of the body performing gymnastic exercises; representing courses in physical culture taught by Edmond Desbonnet. Colour lithograph. Wellcome Library no. 744279i

The poster reproduced here advertises the fitness training regime of Professor Desbonnet. Edmond Desbonnet (1868-1953), born in Lille, was a health entrepreneur who opened his first school of physical culture in his native city in 1895, and subsequently created a chain of over 200 establishments in Europe.

Desbonnet was also a prolific author of books and magazines on popular health, some of which are listed in the BIUM and OCLC catalogues (though curiously none of them is currently in the Wellcome Library catalogue). [1]  He also published Les Rois de la Force, a substantial historical book on strong-men in history — so substantial in fact that professional strong-men could have offered to tear it in two as part of their act. [2]

An exhibition of photographs of his schools, showing the exercises recommended, was shown in Paris in 1992. [3] Desbonnet was an enthusastic photographer: many of his stereo photographs of physical culture are reproduced in Thomas Weynant’s website on the history of visual media. [4]

The poster implies that health can only be attained when all the organs of the body are in a good state. The muscles, bones and blood vessels, which receive much attention in some modern fitness regimes, are conspicuously absent. On this running track of health, the intestines are heading for the gold medal, the stomach for the silver and the lungs for the bronze. A pair of kidneys, the liver and the heart together form a middle group. The nerves and the brain follow in the rear, so erratically that they cannot even stay on the track. Most of the contestants carry dumbbells, an indispensable feature of the Méthode Desbonnet, the aim of which was spelled out in the poster: assured longevity and the joy of living.

[1] They include the following:
La force physique, culture rationnelle, méthode Attila, méthode Sandow, méthode Desbonnet, la santé par les exercices musculaires mis à la portée, Paris: Berger-Levrault, 1901 (also 1904 and 1909)
La Méthode Desbonnet: culture physique rationnelle …, Paris: Chaponet, 1906
L’art de créer le pur-sang humain — par le Dr Georges Rouhet,… [et par] le Professeur Desbonnet … avec cent quatre vingt-deux photographies et gravures, Paris/Nancy: Berger-Levrault, 1908
Pour nos soldats : manuel de culture physique militaire — par Albert Surier ; collaboration technique du professeur Desbonnet ; Préface du général Toutée…, Paris: H. Charles-Lavauzelle, 1910
Les rois de la lutte, anecdotes et récits sur la lutte depuis les temps les plus reculés jusqu’à nos jours …, Paris: Berger-Levrault, 1910

[2] Les rois de la force, histoire de tous les hommes forts depuis les temps anciens jusqu’à nos jours…, Paris: Berger-Levrault, 1911. Freely available online from University of Michigan Library at;idno=4908148.0001.001

Accord à corps: Edmond Desbonnet et la culture physique, Paris: Editions Créaphis, 1992 (Collection Maison de la Villette). Review here. Snippets from Google Books here.


The signature of the poster artist is indistinct (possibly Rem or Remy or Reny). Consequently, the copyright status of the item is unknown and it is reproduced here as an orphan work

Author: William Schupbach

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