Tag Archives: war in art

Gallery

This Terrible Bird (of War)

This gallery contains 1 photos.

…Soaring over us/ On the hot winds/ Of a screaming/ Lust for power… Continue reading

Art and War, Part 3, or November and Remembrance

Griffith Baily Coale, Burial of Japanese Flyers at Sea

Griffith Baily Coale, Burial of Japanese Flyers at Sea

The Second World War touched many lives in many different ways.  One of the ways it touched my life was through my father.  So this month is one of those times when thoughts of him lie close to the surface of my mind.

He was a young man when he entered the British army – we had a picture of him, smiling, in his uniform.  Beyond that we know very little.  His war was something he did not talk about.  All we have had are little bits of information that fell out, rarely, in conversation.

But that did not mean that we could not see some of its effect on him.  He was a man who was suspicious of grand words and emotional speeches, and of leaders who demanded an unquestioning loyalty.  He taught, shared the tools for and encouraged people to think critically, to question and to wonder, to look for their own answers.  He wished for peace, but believed that war was sometimes necessary.

And so when I see these paintings, I think of who he was, what he might have seen and known, what he thought, and what he tried to share and to teach.

There are images of men engaged in terrible battles, in far away places.

Donald Dickson, Battle of Edson's Ridge

Donald Dickson, Battle of Edson's Ridge

Images of men struggling to get their weapons into place, so that they could fight.

Aaron Bohrod, Landing Artillery at Rendova Island, Solomons Group

Images of women, recording what they did, encouraging them to take on new roles so more men could go to war.

Dan V. Smith, WAC Air Controller

Dan V. Smith, WAC Air Controller

Pegi Nicol MacLeod, Untitled

Pegi Nicol MacLeod, Untitled

There were messages to those at home, messages to watch your words, to do your part for the war effort, to support the troops.

Anton Otto Fischer, A careless word, A needless loss, poster

Anton Otto Fischer, A careless word, A needless loss, poster

And finally there was this: the haunting stare of the overwhelmed, exhausted soldier.

Tom Lea, 2000 Yard Stare

Tom Lea, 2000 Yard Stare

These artists allow me to see part of what I think my father saw:  that war is difficult, demanding, dark and dangerous.  That its reach extends far beyond the armies that fight.  That it changes the world, for good or ill or in some complicated mixture of both.

And I am grateful that these and other war artists give me this opportunity by sharing what they have seen.  They allow me to catch a glimpse of the war that helped make my father who he was.

Art and War, Part 2

Alfred Joseph Theodore Bastien, Tanks and Horses at Arras.

Alfred Joseph Theodore Bastien, Tanks and Horses at Arras.

As weapons and tactics have changed, so has the way we see, understand and feel about war.  During World War I war artists showed us, each in their own way, a war at the crossroads.  People still engaged each other on the battlefield, but new technology was changing the ways they fought.

The Canadian artist A. Y. Jackson said: “What to paint was a problem for the war artist… the old heroics, the death and glory stuff, were gone forever… the impressionistic technique I had developed was now ineffective, for visual impressions were not enough.”

And yet he found an odd and inhuman beauty in some of what he did see and a way to paint it.

A. Y. Jackson, Gas Attack, Lievin

A. Y. Jackson, Gas Attack, Lievin

Gas attacks were feared; men who breathed poison gas died a slowly and agonizingly.  Yet Jackson wrote:
“I went with Augustus John one night to see a gas attack we made on the German lines. It was like a wonderful display of fireworks, with our clouds of gas and the German flares and rockets of all colours.”

Arthur Lismer’s dramatic Sketch for Minesweepers and Seaplanes is all about planes and ships and danger.  American seaplanes are flying out of their base at Shearwater, Nova Scotia, on the hunt for enemy submarines; minesweeping ships work below them.  We see the machinery of war in action.

Arthur Lismer, Sketch for Minesweepers and Seaplanes

Arthur Lismer, Sketch for Minesweepers and Seaplanes

Alfred Theodore Joseph Bastien, a Belgian artist who was attached to the Canadian 22nd Battalion as a war artist, shares a different view of the war in this painting.  He catches the loneliness and tension of a Canadian sentry on night-time watch, searching for signs of enemy movement in a dark landscape.

Alfred Theodore Joseph Bastien, Canadian Sentry, Moonlight, Neuville Vitesse

Alfred Theodore Joseph Bastien, Canadian Sentry, Moonlight, Neuville Vitesse

In the next painting the artist himself becomes the subject.  William Topham, an English architect who became an artist after moving to Montreal, and then a war artist, gives us a glimpse into the war artist’s life when he paints his “home”.

William Topham, An Artist's Home on the Somme

William Topham, An Artist's Home on the Somme

“My home at Bottom Wood – about 1/2 way between Mametz and Contalmaison, in the trench the entrance to an old German dugout can be seen. The corrugated iron roof is covered by branches to conceal it from aircraft.” William Topham.

Women brought, and continue to bring, their own perspective to work as a war artist.  In this BBC video about Women War Artists Kathleen Palmer, Head of Art at the Imperial War Museum in London introduces some of their work.  It is interesting, enlightening, thought provoking.

The tradition continues: official war artists, some in and some from outside the armed forces, still record the conflicts around us and what happens to the people involved.  It is an intensely personal way of seeing and understanding war.

It is up to us to seek out, examine and learn from their work.

Art and War, Part 1

Ancient Greek art, Hoplites (Foot Soldiers) Fighting, Eurytios Krater

Ancient Greek art, Hoplites (Foot Soldiers) Fighting, Eurytios Krater

It seems to be part of  our nature to make art, and to make war.

And for as long people have made art and war, artists have been recording those wars in all their terror and glory.  On cave walls or building walls, on ceramic vessels or tapestries, on paper or canvas, in monuments or statues, they have captured the leaders,  the soldiers and the battles of their times.

Bayeux Tapestry, Norman Conquest, Odo Encouraging the Troops

Bayeux Tapestry, Story of the Norman Conquest, Odo Encouraging the Troops

They have recorded mythic battles or battles that were all too real.  They have recorded scenes as they might have been or as they were.  They have shown us war from the point of view of the soldier and the civilian, the victor and the vanquished.

Some paintings tell a story – a story of struggle, of courage, of fear.

J. M. W. Turner, Snow Storm, Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps

J. M. W. Turner, Snow Storm, Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps

Some record an epic battle of their time.

The Battle of Jemmapes, French Revolutionary Army

The Battle of Jemmapes (The volunteers and former Royal Army veterans of the French Revolutionary Army)

Some share the atrocities of war.

Francisco de Goya, El Tres de Mayo (Third of May 1808)

Francisco de Goya, El Tres de Mayo (Third of May 1808), Madrid rebels in the Peninsular War, executed near Principo Pio hill.

In each one we find something of the person or people who created it.  They share with us their way of working, their way of seeing things, their sympathies.

At their best, they draw us in, to feel, to reflect, to contemplate.

And perhaps to see and begin to understand the complexities of war.

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Photo of Hoplites Copyright Marie-Lan Nguyen, Wikimedia Commons.