Being that the centennial anniversary of World War I is quickly approaching, many museums are creating exhibitions to honour the globe-changing event. The Imperial War Museum in particular has put together the biggest exhibition of British First World War art in history, and there are masterpieces of art that have made huge impacts in both of its sections: Truth and Memory.
Comprising of over 120 artworks, the exhibition features pieces by such well known artists as Paul Nash, Percy Wyndham Lewis and William Orpen, as well as lesser known, but just as significant, works by artists like Anna Airy, George Clausen and Gilbert Rogers. The first part of the exhibition is entitled 'Truth', as it features pieces that were created by actual soldiers. These works redefined the notion of what it was like to act as a fighter and even the grander idea of what exactly war was.
'Memory', or the second and final part of the exhibition, takes a look at British art during and after the war and how it impacted how we memorialize the war and how we recognize it today. The combination of these two types of art will make us reconsider and reinterpret WWI and its aftereffects.
Paul Nash’s We Are Making a New World is more than a touch disturbing. The barren trees almost look like arms and hands that are reaching, grasping for the rising sun. The exceedingly rugged ground is reminiscent of rows and rows of skulls, making this whole scene look like a haunted graveyard. The dark red of the hills on the horizon is evocative of the colour of blood, making this barren landscape even darker.
He painted this piece in 1918, just after the 1917 Battle of Passchendaele, 'the blindest slaughter of a blind war'. As a soldier, he was probably inspired by the massive amounts of bloodshed, and his goal probably became to spread awareness of the amount of death and blood that is involved in war, and that we should not glorify it.
George Clausen, in contrast to Paul Nash, was in his 60s at the time of WWI. His piece Youth Mourning, painted in 1916, depicts a young woman mourning the death of all of the soldiers who sacrificed their lives to the war effort. Clausen was inspired by the loss of his daughter’s fiancé, as he dedicated his life to the war and died in the process.
The nakedness of the woman in the painting is startling, especially because her skin is almost bright white against the darkness of the grass and the sky behind her. Clausen very much intended for this contrast, as he wanted to make a statement. He wanted to make the impact of the war obvious to everyone, not just the soldiers or people who were directly involved in it.
The reason why the Imperial War Museum has decided to show these artworks in one exhibition, but in these two separate parts, is to make their impact even greater than if they were shown right next to each other or completely separately. While Nash’s or Clausen’s work are impactful on their own, shown together, they allow for the viewer to get a greater idea of how the First World War affected everyone, not just the soldiers or the everyday citizen.
If you want to see more First World War art in the form of posters, check out new 2015 art calendar in association with the Imperial war Museum (ISBN: 9781783610389) on Amazon, or our First World War Posters book by Roaslind Ormiston (ISBN: 9780857758163) also on Amazon.
This post was written by intern Taylor Steinberg.
For more information about the exhibition, click here.
For more of Paul Nash’s work, click here.
For more of George Clausen's work, click here.