Saturday, February 12, 2011

Art of the First World War

 Max Oppenheimer, Bleeding Man, 1911

"It is the first death which infects everyone with the feeling of being threatened. It is impossible to over assess the role played by the first dead man in the kindling of wars. Rulers who want to unleash war know very well that they must procure or invent a first victim. It need not be anyone of particular importance, and can even be someone unknown. Nothing matters except his death; and it must be believed that the enemy is responsible for this. Every possible cause of his death is suppressed except one: his membership in the group to which one belongs oneself." (Elias Canetti, Crowds and Power)

 Max Beckmann, Sinking of the Titanic, 1912

"My dear friend, what is this our life? A boat that swims in the sea, and all one knows for certain about it is that one day it will capsize. Here we are, two good old boats that have been faithful neighbors, and above all your hand has done its best to keep me from "capsizing"! Let us then continue our voyage—each for the other's sake, for a long time yet, a long time! We should miss each other so much!" (Friedrich Nietzsche, Letter to Franz Overbeck, November 14, 1881)

 Franz Marc, The Wolves (Balkan War), 1913

By 1913, Marc sensed the impending disaster of world events. The Wolves (Balkan War) is a personal allegory of the 1912-13 war that ultimately led to World War I. He no longer used peaceful and gentle animals like horses and deer; instead, he presents a pack of wolves.Marc himself was called to World War I and sent to the front. The great loss of life hurt him greatly, including the many animals that were killed in the war. He wrote to his wife from the battlefield about a painting similar to The Wolves: "it is artistically logical to paint such pictures before a war—but not as stupid reminiscences afterwards, for we must paint constructive pictures denoting the future." This reflects his orientation towards the future and gives The Wolves the function of a warning. Marc was killed at Verdun, France, in 1916.

 Otto Dix, Sunrise, 1913

Georg Trakl, The Ravens, 1913

Over the black crevice
at noon the ravens rush with rusty cries.
Their shadows touch the deer’s back
and at times they loom in gnarled rest.

O how they derange the brown stillness,
in the one acre itself entranced,
like a woman married to grave premonitions,
and at times you can hear them bicker

about a corpse they sniffed-out somewhere,
and sharply they bend their flight towards north
and dwindle away like a funeral
march in the air, shivering with bliss.

 Ludwig Meidner, Apocalyptic Landscape, 1913

Georg Heym, The War (1911, last two stanzas)

An important city, chocked in yellow glow,
jumped without a whisper to the depths below,
while he stands, a giant, over glowing urns,
wild, in bloody heavens, thrice his torch he turns 

over stormstrung clouds reflecting fiery brands,
to the deadly dark of frigid desert sands,
down he pours the fires, withering the night,
phosphorus and brimstone on Gomorrha bright.

Peter August Böckstiegel, Departure of the Youngsters for War, 1914

"We left the schoolrooms, the school desks and benches, and the few short weeks of instruction had bonded us into one great body burning with enthusiasm. Having grown up in an age of security, we all had a nostalgia for the unusual great perils. The war thus seized hold of us like strong liquor. It was under a hail of flowers that we left, drunk on roses and blood. Without a doubt, the war offered us grandeur, strength and gravity. It seemed to us like a virile exploit: the joyous combats of infantrymen in the meadows where blood fell like dew on the flowers." (Ernst Jünger, Storms of Steel)

 Max Beckmann, Der Kriegsausbruch (Declaration of War), 1914

Beckmann was in Berlin and was in the street to see the joyful demonstrations and the nationalist fervour provoked by this news both in Berlin and in Paris. A group of passers-by learns the news. Their faces betray their mixed feelings ranging from exaltation to anguish. Thus begins the artist's war chronicle in the form of drawings and engravings in 1914 and 1915.

 Max Beckmann, Self-Portrait as a Nurse, 1915

Beckmann served in the medical services in eastern Prussia, then in Flanders and at Strasbourg. He was a witness to the first mustard gas attacks around Ypres. At Courtrai, he was present at operations that surgeons attempted on the wounded and made detailed drawings of them. His self portrait is built around three elements: the eye that scrutinises, the hand that draws, and the red cross. There is hardly any colour. A few months later, Beckmann was sent home to Germany after suffering a serious mental breakdown. He sought refuge in Frankfurt where he slowly took up painting again.

 Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Artillerymen, 1915

Despite Kirchner’s artistic success during the Berlin years, a crisis of identity was brewing within the troubled artist. His neurosis was largely burdened by the impending war, which he had viewed with a tragic sense of foreboding and fear from the outset. In a state of nervous anxiety, and fearing that he would get called up, Kirchner began to drink absinthe and developed an increasing dependency on sleeping pills and morphine. In an effort to avoid conscription into the infantry, he signed on as an artillery driver - "an involuntary volunteer" -  and was billeted to Halle.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Self-Portrait as a Soldier, 1915

Kirchner found military service very distressing and, suffering a nervous breakdown, was admitted to a sanatorium at Königstein im Taunus. He would return here twice more over the next year as his condition failed to improve. In September 1916, Kirchner wrote to Gustav Schiefler: "I am half dead from mental and physical torments, and have placed myself in the care of a neurologist here, since I am unable to do anything but work." His torments of that time can be seen in his terrifying work Self-Portrait as a Soldier (above). Here, Kirchner imagines himself in military uniform with his hand severed, unable to paint.

 Marcel Gromaire, La guerre (War), 1925

by Siegfried Sassoon (1919, last stanza)

Do you remember that hour of din before the attack-
And the anger, the blind compassion that seized and shook you then
As you peered at the doomed and haggard faces of your men?
Do you remember the stretcher-cases lurching back
With dying eyes and lolling heads-those ashen-grey
Masks of the lads who once were keen and kind and gay?
Have you forgotten yet?...
Look up, and swear by the green of the spring that you’ll never forget.

Conrad Felixmüller, Soldat im Irrenhaus [Soldier in the Madhouse], 1918

Lovis Corinth, Portrait of Hermann Struck, 1915

In 1915, Struck was thirty-nine. A painter, engraver and art critic, he posed for his friend Corinth (1858-1925) wearing the uniform of the officer he had become. Neither the subject nor the painter give in to the exalted belligerency of the moment. Despite the fact that Corinth paints with emphatic touches, he keeps his distance from all forms of expressionism, in order, more simply, to depict the worry, the melancholy and the unease of the artist in his soldier's garb. After the war, Struck left Europe where life had become too distressing for him, and settled in Palestine.

  Oskar Kokoschka, Self-Portrait as a Warrior, 1909

 Walter Gramatté, Self-Portrait as Soldier (Detail), 1917

 Otto Dix, Self-Portrait, 1914

When the First World War erupted in 1914, Dix enthusiastically volunteered for the German Army. He was assigned to a field artillery regiment in Dresden. In the fall of 1915 he was assigned as a non-commissioned officer of a machine-gun unit in the Western front and took part of the Battle of the Somme. He was seriously wounded several times. In 1917, his unit was transferred to the Eastern front until the end of hostilities with Russia. Back to the western front in 1918, he fought in the German Spring offensive. He earned the Iron Cross (second class) and reached the rank of vice-sergeant-major. 

 Otto Dix, Stormtroopers during a Gas Attack, 1924

Dix was profoundly affected by the sights of the war, and would later describe a recurring nightmare in which he crawled through destroyed houses. He represented his traumatic experiences in many subsequent works, including his famous portfolio of fifty etchings called Der Krieg (The War), published in 1924 by Karl Nierendorf. You can see the whole series on the website of the Minneapolis Institute of Art.

Otto Dix, Machine Gunners Advancing, 1924

"We are unfeeling dead who, through some dangerous trick of magic, are still able to run and kill. A young Frenchman falls behind; they catch up with him and he puts his hands up; in one of them he is still holding his revolver; we cannot tell whether he wants to shoot or to surrender. A stroke with a shovel splits his face in two. Another seeing this tries to escape, but a bayonet whistles into his back. He jumps in the air and, arms outstretched, stumbles screaming as the bayonet moves up and down in his spine." (Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front)

 Henri de Groux, Masques à gaz (Gas Masks)

This etching seems to have been designed especially to illustrate the passage where another painter, Jacques-Emile Blanche, recounts what he saw at the cinema one day in March 1916: "Today", he wrote in his diary, "we went down into these troglodyte dwellings where warring monks, officers aged between 50 and 60, good men who have bidden farewell to worldly things, did their 'dirty work' with the ingenuous, childish and methodical spirit of Benedictine monks. We saw the monstrous, grotesque masks of the gas masks, those fearsome goggled snouts which men with such paternal, such gentle faces, so ill-fitted for war, adjust with all the care demanded by the insidious poison."

 André Mare, Elm at Vermezeele (Sketchbook)

Camouflage had to fool enemy observers and also allow better and more reliable observation. It was for this reason that imitation trees in metal were produced and painted to look like an actual tree. Being hollow and armour-plated, they allowed a soldier to climb up and look out through slits in them. They were usually set up at night to avoid the enemy detecting the substitution. This technique required as accurate a copy of the tree it was to replace as possible, as is shown in Mare's sketchbook.

"I found myself in a huge hayloft (a very nice workshop!) and I painted nine 'Kandinsky's' on tent canvas. This process had a very useful purpose: to make artillery positions invisible to reconnaissance planes and aerial photography by covering them with canvases painted in a roughly pointillist style and in line with observation of the colours of natural camouflage (mimicry). From now on, painting must make the picture that betrays our presence sufficiently blurred and distorted for the position to be unrecognisable. The division is going to provide us with a plane to experiment with some aerial photographs to see how it looks from the air. I'm very interested to see the effect of a Kandinsky from six thousand feet." (Franz Marc, Letters from the Front, Fourbis, 1996)

 Ernst Barlach, The Avenger, 1914

 Albin Egger-Lienz, Den Namenlosen (Those Who Have Lost Their Names), 1914

 Charles de Groux, The Assault, Verdun, c. 1918

 Adolf Erbslöh, Destroyed Forest near Verdun, 1916

 Otto Dix, Trenches, 1917

 Georges Leroux, Hell, 1917

"A great movement of earth and sky through our burning eyelids, wet and cold; things you find in the pale dawn, one after another and all of them; nobody killed in the darkness, nobody even buried despite the relentless shell attack, the same earth and the same corpses, all this flesh that trembles as if from internal spasms, which dances, deep and hot, and hurts; no more pictures even, just this burning fatigue frozen skin-deep by the rain; another day dawning over the ridge while the Boche's batteries carry on firing on it and on what remains of us up there, mixed with the mud, the bodies, with the once fertile field, now polluted with poison, dead flesh, incurably affected by our hellish torture." (Maurice Genevoix, Ceux de 14 (The Men of 1914), Paris, Flammarion, 1950)

 Paul Nash, The Menin Road, 1919

The battle around Ypres lasted as long as the war itself. This appalling blood-bath was for the Commonwealth troops like Verdun for the French: an endless carnage in a marshy landscape where the wounded were swallowed up in the mud. 

William Roberts, Gunners pulling cannons at Ypres, c. 1918

"We gingerly crossed the valley of Paddebeek through a hail of bullets, hiding behind the foliage of black poplar trees felled in the bombardment, and using their trunks as bridges. From time to time one of us disappeared up to their waist in the mud, and if our comrades had not come to their rescue, holding out their rifle butt, they would certainly have gone under. We ran along the rims of the shell-holes as if we were on the thin edge of a honeycomb. Traces of blood on the surface of some heavy shell-holes told us that several men had already been swallowed up." (Ernst Jünger, Storms of Steel)

 William Roberts, The First German Gas Attack at Ypres, 1918

 John Singer Sargent, Gassed, 1918


Down the long white road we walked together
Down between the grey hills and the heather,
Where the tawny-crested
Plover cries.
You seemed all brown and soft, just like a linnet,
Your errant hair had shadowed sunbeams in it,
And there shone all April
In your eyes.
With your golden voice of tears and laughter
Softened ... Read moreinto song 'Does aught come after Life,' you asked 'When life is
Laboured through?
What is God and all for which we're striving?'
'Sweetest sceptic, we were born for living;
Life is Love, and Love is---
You, dear, you.'

 Eric Kennington, Gassed and Wounded, 1918

"In the horizontal abyss, extending stretcher after stretcher, gradually getting smaller as far as the eye could see, out towards the pale opening of daylight, in the untidy hall with dim candle flames flickering here and there, glowing red and feverish, and where, from time to time, wings of shadow would pass over, and for no obvious reason, a sudden stir. You saw the bric-a-brac of limbs and heads moving, you heard cries and moans waking one another and spreading like invisible ghosts. The prostrate bodies rippled, curled up and turned over."
(Henri Barbusse, Le Feu)

 Austin Osman Spare, Operating in a Regimental Aid Post, 1918

 Romaine Brooks, La France Croisée, 1914

The Cross of France (above), a portrait of Ida Rubenstein with a resolute expression while Ypres burns in the distance behind her, was executed shortly after the beginning of World War I and exhibited in 1915 as part of a benefit that D'Annunzio and Brooks organized for the Red Cross. In 1920, Brooks received the Chevalier medal from the French Legion of Honor for this and other efforts on behalf of France.

 George Bellows, Edith Cavell, 1918

Edith Louisa Cavell (4 December 1865 – 12 October 1915) was a British nurse and humanitarian. She is celebrated for helping some 200 Allied soldiers escape from German-occupied Belgium during World War I, for which she was executed. This led to worldwide sympathetic press coverage of her.

 Gino Severini, Visual Synthesis of the Idea: "War", 1914

 Gino Severini, Armored Train, 1915

 Umberto Boccioni, Charge of the lancers, 1915

BLAST Magazine, UK, July 1915

Vorticism was a short-lived but radical movement that emerged in London immediately before the First World War. 'The vortex is the point of maximum energy', wrote the American poet Ezra Pound, who co-founded the Vorticist journal Blast with Wyndham Lewis in June 1914. The journal opened with the 'Blast' and 'Bless' manifestos, which celebrate the machine age and Britain as the first industrialised nation. Lewis's painting Workshop epitomises Vorticism's aims, using sharp angles and shifting diagonals to suggest the geometry of modern buildings. Its harsh colours and lines echo the discordant vitality of the modern city in an 'attack on traditional harmony'. The group's aggressive rhetoric, angular style and focus on the energy of modern life linked it to Italian Futurism, though it did not share the latter's emphasis on speed and dynamism. Artists associated with Vorticism included William Roberts, Edward Wadsworth, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, CRW Nevinson and David Bomberg. The First World War demonstrated the devastating reality of pitting men against machines and Lewis's attempts to revive the movement in 1919 came to nothing.

 C. R. W. Nevinson, Machine-gun, 1915

Apollinaire praised Nevinson as being one who "translates the mechanical aspect of modern warfare where man and machine combine to form a single force of nature. His painting Machine-gun conveys this idea exactly. Nevinson belongs to the school of the English avant-garde influenced by both the young Italian and French schools."

 Percy Wyndham Lewis, A Battery Shelled, 1919

"I am here (in the firing line) since yesterday. Battery split up, and I have come as reinforcements. Whizzing, banging and swishing and thudding completely surround me, and I almost jog up and down on my camp bed as though I were riding in a country wagon or a dilapidated taxi. I am in short, my dear colleague, in the midst of an unusually noisy battle." (Percy Wyndham Lewis, letter to Ezra Pound (6th June, 1917):

David Bomberg, Sappers at Work: A Canadian Tunelling Company, first version, 1918-1919

Bomberg (1890-1957) was one of the major artists of the London avant-garde scene, one of those whose Cubo-Futurist approach led them to invent geometrical signs verging on abstraction. In 1917, he was commissioned by the Canadian authorities to do a painting celebrating an operation in which the sappers successfully blew up a salient of the German defences at Saint-Eloi near Arras. He was told to steer clear of Cubism. Despite this warning, the first version of his painting shows a mixed style in which figurative elements are caught up in a composition dominated by non-imitative colours and the powerfully dynamic rhythms of oblique lines in blue and purple. The painting was rejected by the emissary of the Canadian committee, who criticised Bomberg's 'Futurism' which he found unacceptable.

 David Bomberg, Sappers at Work: A Canadian Tunelling Company, 1919

"There were coal seams everywhere under our positions and the French took advantage of this. Not a single day went by without a section of trench blowing up followed by an attack on the still-smoking crater, while we still had mud up to our necks. The first one to the bottom won. We stayed night and day at our posts listening intently in the galleries with our explosives within arm's reach. We often heard the enemy's pick-axes right close to us, and then, within a split second, the race was on to see who would be blown to pieces, them or us. How many times have I stood crouching in a hole with an earpiece listening out for the moment when they would stop digging and start dragging over their cases of dynamite." (Ernst Jünger, Lieutenant Sturm)

 John Nash, Over the Top, c. 1918

The archetype of the battle scene, Over the Top depicts the attack during which the First Artist Rifles left their trenches and pushed towards Marcoing near Cambrai. Of the eighty men, sixty-eight were killed or wounded during the first few minutes. John Nash (1893-1977) was one of the twelve spared by the shellfire.

 Christopher David Williams (1873 – 1934), The Welsh at Mametz Wood

 Plinio Nomellini, Alle porte d'Italia, 1918

 William Orpen, The War Artist (Self-Portrait), 1917

 William Orpen, The NCO Pilot, RFC. (Flight Sergeant W G Bennett), c. 1917

 John Lavery, A Convoy, North Sea, 1918

 G. Scaccia, Il Bombardiere “Aquila Romana”, 1916

 C.R.W. Nevinson, c. 1918

"Still today, I envision the grand reveries of these pilots who envelopped their nerves with the white soft mat of anaesthesia and who, under the delusive shield of an artificial painlessness, infinitely alone with all the thousand images and thoughts surging out of ecstasy, drew their lonely circles high above the clouds. Maybe he fired his shots, if the encounter took place, with a sentiment of unconcern, as if this had to be done. Maybe, while he was lying in a steep curve and the wires were howling, a world of strange insights opened before him and he disposed of an endless time to finish his thoughts before he came in a position to fire again. Yes, and maybe the chain of his imaginations had just run back as the projectile hit him with that enigmatic necessity which marks the intersection of dream, sleep and awakening." (Ernst Jünger, Das Abenteuerliche Herz, own translation)

 C. R. W. Nevinson, Taube, 1916
Taube (Dove) was a German plane during the First World War.

 Russian Litograph, 1914
Painting depicts aerial battle with airplanes and airships. Text underneath describes modern aerial warfare. (From the Hoover Institution Russian Empire and Soviet Poster Collection)

 Felix Schwormstädt, Zeppelin L38 Attacking England, 1916

 Edward Wadsworth, Dazzle-ships in Drydock at Liverpool, 1919

Wadsworth spent the war in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve on the island of Mudros until invalided out in 1917, designing dazzle camouflage for allied ships. Known as Dazzle ships, these vessels weren't camouflaged to become invisible, but instead used ideas derived from Vorticism and Cubism to confuse enemy U-Boats trying to pinpoint the direction and speed of travel. Always a fan of modern ships, Wadsworth was to utilise nautical themes in his art for the rest of his career.

 Edward Wadsworth, Rhythms of Modern Life, 1918

by Carl Sandburg (1916)

Long, steel guns,
Pointed from the war ships
In the name of the war god.
Straight, shining, polished guns,
Clambered over with jackies in white blouses,
Glory of tan faces, tousled hair, white teeth,
Laughing lithe jackies in white blouses,
Sitting on the guns singing war songs, war chanties.
Broad, iron shovels,
Scooping out oblong vaults,
Loosening turf and leveling sod.
I ask you
To witness-
The shovel is brother to the gun.

 William Lionel Wyllie, The Track of Lusitania. View of casualties and survivors in the water and in lifeboats

RMS Lusitania was a Lusitania-Class British luxury ocean liner owned by the Cunard Line and built by John Brown and Company of Clydebank, Scotland, torpedoed by a German U-boat on May 7, 1915. The great ship sank in just 18 minutes, eight miles (15 km) off the Old Head of Kinsale, Ireland, killing 1,198 of the 1,959 people aboard. The sinking turned public opinion in many countries against Germany, and was probably a major factor in the eventual decision of the United States to join the war in 1917. It is often considered by historians to be the second most famous civilian passenger liner disaster after the sinking of Titanic. When Kapitänleutnant Schwieger of the U-20 gave the order to fire, his quartermaster, Charles Voegele, would not take part in an attack on women and children, and refused to pass on the order to the torpedo room — a decision for which he was court-martialed and served three years in prison at Kiel. 

 Félix Vallotton, Dans l'ombre, 1916

The Man He Killed
from “The Dynasts” by Thomas Hardy (1915)

"Had he and I but met
By some old ancient inn,
We should have sat us down to wet
Right many a nipperkin!
"But ranged as infantry,
And staring face to face,
I shot at him as he at me,
And killed him in his place.
“I shot him dead because—
Because he was my foe,
Just so: my foe of course he was;
That’s clear enough; although
“He thought he’d ’list, perhaps,
Off-hand like—just as I—
Was out of work—had sold his traps—
No other reason why.
“Yes; quaint and curious war is!
You shoot a fellow down
You’d treat, if met where any bar is,
Or help to half-a-crown.”

 Colin Gill, The Captive, 1918

 Eric Henry Kennington, Signaller off duty, 1916

An Immorality
by Ezra Pound

Sing we for love and idleness,
Naught else is worth the having.
Though I have been in many a land,
There is naught else in living.
And I would rather have my sweet,
Though rose-leaves die of grieving,
Than do high deeds in Hungary
To pass all men's believing.

C. R. W. Nevinson, Paths of Glory, 1917

Because Nevinson was so bold as to paint the bodies of two Tommies in front of the barbed wire, this painting was banned from an exhibition in 1918. Nevinson refused to take it down and covered it with brown paper on which he wrote "Censored". In 1957, Stanley Kubrick used the title Paths of Glory for his film which violently denounced the absurdity of the Great War and introduced a theme absent from Nevinson's painting: mutiny and repression of mutiny, which is why for a long time his film was never screened in France.

William Orpen, Dead Germans in a Trench, 1918

by Giuseppe Ungaretti

A whole night long
crouched close
to one of our men
with his clenched
grinning at the full moon
with the congestion
of his hands
thrust right
into my silence
I've written
letters filled with love

I have never been
coupled to life

 Georges Paul Leroux, Soldats enterrant leurs camarades au clair de lune, 1915

April night 1915
by Apollinaire

The sky is starlit with the Boche's shells
The marvellous forest where I live is giving a ball
The machine-gun plays a demisemiquaver tune
Do you have the word
Oh yes! the fateful word
To the breach To the breach Leave the picks there
Like a bewildered star looking for its seasons
Heart exploded shell you whistled your romance
And your thousand suns have emptied the caissons
That the gods of my eyes fill in silence

 Albin Egger-Lienz, Finale, 1918

 Amos Nattini, Inferno, Canto III, 1919

Otto Dix, Flandern, 1934

Dix worked on this large-format (78 x 98") painting from 1934 to 1936. By that point, the National Socialists had already dismissed him from his professorial position at the Dresden Art Academy, and he was living in Randegg bei Singen. The painting shows a field in Flanders where three devastating battles were fought. In contrast to war-time propaganda images, Dix's canvas introduces war in the form of a battlefield where corpses and mud predominate, the one rotting and merging into the other. With this nightmarish tableau, Dix commemorated the victims of one World War in the hopes of preventing another. 

Otto Dix, Transplantation, 1924

We finally halted, after how many hours? our exhausted flesh, drained of blood, shaken about in other people's arms. I had to comb my fingers over my face as sticky traces stiffened my skin as they dried. I'm going to be a fine sight by the time they get to me, those two slow-moving nurses walking along the foot of the stretchers and bending for a moment over each wounded man. A hand stuck my new Verdun képi on my head, my velvety blue 'flower pot'. How I looked like Pierrot, so pale and blood-smeared in my beautiful new képi! There is a nauseating smell, of coal-tar, bleach and the sickly smell of blood. "A lieutenant from the 106ths, doctor." They touched me and another needle pricked me. I could see the dark tunic of the major between two white nurses. They were talking to me. I answered "Yes, yes...". And the doctor's voice said, "Can't be evacuated. Military hospital." (Maurice Genevoix, Ceux de 14 (The Men of 1914), Paris, Flammarion, 1950)

 Otto Dix, A Skull, 1924

"Next to the black, waxen heads like Egyptian mummies, lumpy with insect larvae and debris, where white teeth appeared the hollows; next to poor darkened stumps which were numerous here, like a field of bare roots, we discovered yellow skulls, stripped clean, still wearing a red fez with a grey cover as brittle as papyrus. There were thighbones protruding from mounds of rags stuck together in the red mud, or a fragment of spine emerged from a hole filled with frayed material coated with a kind of tar. There were ribs scattered all over the ground like broken old cages, and nearby blackened pieces of leather, pierced and flattened beakers and mess tins had risen to the surface. Here and there, a longish bulge - for all these unburied dead finish up going into the ground - only a scrap of material sticks out, indicating that a human being was annihilated on this particular point of the globe." (Henri Barbusse, Le Feu)

 Max Beckmann, The Hell, 1919

Marc Chagall, Wounded Soldier, 1914 

 Otto Dix, The Match Seller, 1920

 Otto Griebel, Sunday Afternoon, 1920

 Gottfried Brockmann, The Existence of a Cripple, No. 4 (Krüppeldasein IV), 1922

 Heinrich Hoerle, Monument of the Three Unknown Prostheses, 1930

 George Grosz, The Survivor, 1936


  1. I have lectured and written on this topic many times before, but you have a much better coverage of German art as well. I am grateful for the link

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  2. such powerful pieces. thanks so much for posting this.

  3. Some of these are truly frightening; I can't begin to imagine what those soldiers went through. Normally I am not a huge fan of the mutilated and grotesque in art, unless it's done tastefully; however, I think little else can adequately describe such an event.

    Thanks much.

  4. But you have done a magnificent job of portraying the psyche of the time! Art can be many things, but it is always the true best way to really understand the true core of the soul of an era..

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