Nevinson in New York

Nevinson caused a sensation with his one man exhibition of war paintings in 1916. The images presented the modern age’s first industrialized war, often in bold modernistic style derived from Futurism, and the pictures all sold. 

Nevinson’s artistic legacy in Britain had been established by his two exhibitions at the Leicester Galleries in 1916 and 1918. It was his work during this time, documenting the First World War that gave him some fame. The works at this time being a mixture of abstraction and futurism. When he first went to New York, it was as a war hero, a survivor and documenter of war in a bold new ‘futurist’ way.

Nevinson was invited to New York in 1919 by David Keppel of the print publishers Frederick Keppel and Co, to exhibit his War prints. Manhattan’s architecture inspired him, not only by the sheer beauty of its skyscrapers.

Nevinson made two trips to New York, the first in 1919 and again the following year. His first visit was to attend the exhibition of his war etchings and lithographs. This first exhibition held at Keppel and Co was a great success and the catalogue came with an introduction by the well known American critic and connoisseur Albert Gallatin.

It would have been during this first trip that Nevinson started a whole series of new works based on New York City. Many of these works were made from sketches and studies he made from the first trip, but were sold during his second. Many of the works are harder to date, a lot of the works are considered 1919/1920 but many of the dates rely on the year they were sold, not the year they were made. The process of lithography and etchings needed to be made in the studio later, some were sold at an exhibition in 1921. It is likely that many of the works that are etchings where also made into oil paintings(The Great White Way, Three AM), but their location is currently a mystery.

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 C.R.W Nevinson – Temples of New York, 1919 (Etching)

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 C.R.W Nevinson – The Statue of Liberty from the Railroad Club, 1919 (Oil)

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 C.R.W Nevinson – New York, Night, 1919 (Oil)

The print below ‘Looking down Wall Street’ has a view of the Brooklyn Bridge in the top left corner, though only 30 something years old at the time, the bridge and its size were still a marvel of engineering.

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 C.R.W Nevinson – Looking Down into Wall Street, 1919 (Lithograph)

He was clearly captivated by the city, compared to the London of the 1920s it must have been something, the skyscrapers of the time in New York would have been the Woolworth Building (60 stories) and the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Tower (50 stories), but most of the ‘skyscrapers’ of the early 1920s peaked around 30 stories tall. London didn’t start building above 20 stories until the 1960s. Nevinson is quoted below:

‘New York, being the Venice of this epoch, has triumphed, thanks to its engineers and architects, as successfully as the Venetians did in their time.. Where the Venetian drove stakes into his sandbanks to overcome nature, the American has pegged his city to the sky. No sight can be more exhilarating and beautiful than this triumph of man. ♥

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 C.R.W Nevinson – The Great White Way, 1920 (Lithograph)

Between the New York exhibitions of 1919 and October 1920 Nevinson exhibited in the Senefelder Club – Leicester Galleries in February 1920 and also at the Manchester City Art Gallery in July 1920. The Great White Way was shown first at the Senefelder Club and Three AM shown first at Manchester.

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 C.R.W Nevinson – Three A.M. – A Corner by Madison Square at Night. 1920 (Etching)

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 C.R.W Nevinson – Looking through Brooklyn Bridge, 1920 (Etching)

His second exhibition held at the Bourgeois Gallery was much larger, with a series of paintings and etchings of New York that failed to capture the attention of the public. The press were kind but the works did not sell well and there is little reporting of the second exhibition in comparison to the first. Nevinson hired a cuttings agency to collect all items about him that featured in the press.

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 Below is an extract from the New York Herald, 24th October, 1920. 

“Art,” says Mr. Nevinson, “triumphs in utility, and the most beautiful products of the modern world are a Rolls-Royce car and a skyscraper. They have been built for strict utility; their lines are perfect and they must appeal to the genuine artist. New York will be remembered for its introduction of the architecture of the skyscraper long after its people have been forgotten for other things.“ ◊

New York should like Mr. Nevinson and his work, for surely he is her friend. No native could ever idealize America’s greatest city more than this foreigner. ◊

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 C.R.W Nevinson – Under Brooklyn Bridge, 1920 (Etching)

Here I start to look at the station and railway pictures. Here is a photograph of the Fulton Street Station and the Elevated railway. Railways like this started in London but were built of bricks with viaduct structures. In New York, the buildings were made of iron girders and so the railways were bridged with girders.

In a wonderful bit of research I found a photograph of the station at the intersection of Greenwich Street in Manhattan. When the railway line was taken down the World Trade Centre was built just to the left of this photograph.

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 Greenwich and Fulton Streets, 1914

The photograph shows the same view only 4 years before Nevinson stood in the same spot. Being able to pinpoint the location of the station has helped with the location of other works too.

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 C.R.W Nevinson – Third Avenue, Elevated Railway, 1920 (Drawing)

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 C.R.W Nevinson – Third Avenue, Elevated Railway, 1920 (Oil)

Critics have suggested that the almost Monet style of the oil painting Third Avenue, Elevated Railway is down to it being painted on the spot and not in Nevinson’s studio. The etching that would  have been made later still has some of the free feeling that the painting has and is more pictorial and more photo accurate than many of his pictures are.

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 C.R.W Nevinson – Under the Elevated, 1921 (Etching)

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 C.R.W Nevinson – New York: An Abstraction, 1921 (Etching)

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 C.R.W Nevinson – Fulton Station of 3rd Ave El, c1950

With the help of the drawing above and finding the location we can see that Nevinson was working in this part of New York on many views. The photo above is the same view as the etching above and the painting below. You can look at the metal fire escapes on either side of the buildings and find they match up. It is the view from the very end of the platform of the Fulton station. The skyscrapers become a theatrical fantasy.

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 C.R.W Nevinson – The Soul of the Soulless City, Previously known as New York – an Abstraction ,1920 (Oil)

The poor reception of this exhibition may have accelerated Nevinson’s disaffection with the city. His growing embitterment is perhaps reflected by the change of title. Originally exhibited in 1920 at the Bourgeois Galleries, ‘New York, as New York – an Abstraction’, it was re-titled ‘The Soul of the Soulless City’ in the Faculty of Arts Exhibition, Grosvenor House, London, in 1925 probably at Nevinson’s instigation.

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 C.R.W Nevinson – Looking Down on Downtown, 1920 (Oil)

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 C.R.W Nevinson – New York, Night, 1920 (Mezzotint)

Michael Walsh – A Dilemma of English Modernism: Visual and Verbal Politics in the Life and Work of C. R. W. Nevinson (1889-1946), 2007
C.R.W. Nevinson 1889 – 1946 Retrospective Exhibition Of Paintings, Drawings And Prints: Kettle’s Yard Gallery 1988
David Cohen – C.R.W. Nevinson, The Twentieth Century, p46, 1999.
New York Herald, 24th October, 1920.
Tate, London, T07448.

Nevinson in the Air

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 C.R.W Nevinson – Pursuing a Taube, 1915

Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson started the First World War working for the Red Cross. His work as an ambulance driver took him to the epicentre of the carnage and it’s effects of the war. His time was spent in France working in a disused goods shed converted to a make-shift hospital for up to 3000 men off the railway station in Dunkirk.

Nevinson contracted rheumatic fever in January of 1915 and returned to Britain to recover. During his recovery he started to paint from his sketches and studies made in France on the front lines and trenches for an exhibitions at the Grafton Galleries in March 1916 and then at the Leicester Galleries in September.

By 1915 the theory that art and war could thrive together seemed to convert convincingly into practice as C. R. W. Nevinson, England’s only Futurist disciple and coauthor (with Marinetti) of Viral English Art, advocated upon his return from the front (from a ghastly experience as a medical orderly in Belgium). 

“All artists should go to the front to strengthen their art by a worship of physical and moral courage and a fearless desire of adventure, risk and daring and free themselves from the canker of professors, archaeologists, cicerones, antiquaries and beauty worshippers”.

War and art, Nevinson felt. were going to thrive together. Marinettian philosophy had proved an admirable apprenticeship, and here was the perfect subject. Writing in the 1970s, William Wees saw that progression as entirely logical, noting. “The metaphorical implications of avant garde turned art movements into battles. advances and retreats, victories and defeats,” to the point that, years later, Nevinson would look back and declare,

“The war did not take the modern artist by surprise. I think it can be said that modern artists have been at war since 1912…. They were in love with the glory of violence. Some say that artists have lagged behind the war, I should say not! They were miles ahead of it.” 

By 1917, Nevinson was made an official war artist. The Black and White etchings from this period are from the ‘Britain’s Efforts and Ideals’ series published in 1917 in an edition of 200 by the Ministry of Information. Other artists involved where Frank Brangwyn, Muirhead Bone and William Rothenstein.

The contributing artists were paid well, each receiving £210 (about £10,000 today) with the possibility of further royalties from sales. The prints were a limited edition of two hundred. The ‘Efforts’ were sold for £2 2s 0d (£100) each and the ‘Ideals’ for £10 10s 0d (£500). 

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 C.R.W Nevinson – Making the Engine, 1917

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 C.R.W Nevinson – Acetylene Welding, 1917

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  C.R.W Nevinson – Assembling Parts, 1917

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 C.R.W Nevinson – Banking at 4000 Feet, 1917

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 C.R.W Nevinson – Sweeping Down on a Taube, 1917

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 C.R.W Nevinson – In the Air, 1917

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 C.R.W Nevinson – Swooping Down on a Hostile Plane, 1917

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 C.R.W Nevinson – War in the Air, 1918 

War in the Air’ was produced as a very rare lithograph by the Ministry of Information for the Canadian War Memorial Fund in 1919.

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 C.R.W Nevinson – War in the Air, 1917

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 C.R.W Nevinson – Three British WWI Bi-Planes, 1917

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 C.R.W Nevinson – Over the Lines, 1917

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 C.R.W Nevinson – Night Raid, 1917

Nanette Norris – Great War Modernism: Artistic Response in the Context of War, 1914-1918, p27-28, 2015.
‡ The Great War: Britain’s Efforts and Ideals, Online
C.R.W. Nevinson 1889 – 1946 Retrospective Exhibition Of Paintings, Drawings And Prints: Kettle’s Yard Gallery 1988

The Spirit Of Progress

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 C.R.W Nevinson – La Mitrailleuse, 1915

Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson was a fascinating man who in life and letters seems paranoid and jealous of the success of others, no matter how well he himself was doing. Many of his friends he drove away in one way or the other due to his incredible ability to take offence. In 1920, the critic Charles Lewis Hind wrote that:

‘It is something, at the age of thirty one, to be among the most discussed, most successful, most promising, most admired and most hated British artists.

He studied at the Slade art school alongside Mark Gertler, Stanley Spencer, Paul Nash, Maxwell Gordon Lightfoot, John Currie, Edward Wadsworth, Rudolph Ihlee, Adrian Allinson and Dora Carrington.

His time at the Slade was unhappy, the tutor Henry Tonks hated his work, he and Gertler fell in love with Dora Carrington (as did most men it seems) and their strong friendship was shattered when Carrington started having intercourse with Gertler.

His work however was visual and strong and he was inspired by the Italian Futurists, Cubists and his work follows themes of the Vorticists, even though he was not a member of the group after irking Wyndham Lewis.

After a brief stint as a journalist he went back to art. At the outbreak of World War I, Nevinson joined the Friends’ Ambulance Unit and was deeply disturbed by his work tending wounded French soldiers in Flanders. For a very brief period he served as a volunteer ambulance driver before ill health forced his return to Britain. Subsequently, Nevinson volunteered for home service with the Royal Army Medical Corps. He used these experiences as the subject matter for a series of powerful paintings which used the machine aesthetic of Futurism and the influence of Cubism to great effect. His fellow artist Walter Sickert wrote at the time that Nevinson’s painting:

Mr Nevinson’s Mitrailleuse, which will probably remain the most authoritative and concentrated utterance on the war in the history of painting. This must be for the nation. 

In 1917, Nevinson was appointed an official war artist, but he was no longer finding Modernist styles adequate for describing the horrors of modern war, and he increasingly painted in a more realistic manner to the point that ’Paths Of Glory, 1917’ was censored from display.

The First World War was one were that artists embraced Printmaking due to the lack of materials at hand, it saw the medium rise up from trade and advertising to one of art. Nevinson’s prints of WW1 were lively, hellish and futuristic.

Nevinson’s printmaking is unique in a number of ways. He was virtually the only artist who was directly concerned with Modernism to use etching and mezzotint. Every other important artist in this regard turned to wood engraving, cutting, or lithography, perhaps to break away from the established traditional etchers with whom they did not wish to be associated. Nevinson actually only attempted two woodcuts.

During the years 1916-19, Nevinson was instrumental in establishing modern ideas in British printmaking, which should be seen in the context of Vorticism, and Nevinson’s own earlier painting. Another antecedent was Edward Wadsworth’s woodcuts. ♠

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 C.R.W Nevinson – The Spirit Of Progress, 1915

However, this post is about the lithograph by C.R.W.Nevinson made in 1933 called ‘​The Spirit Of Progress’. It is an iconic yet strange picture, almost a greatest hits of Nevinson’s artworks of the previous twenty years.

The arrangement of ‘​The Spirit Of Progress’ is one Nevinson would visit many times. In ’Twentieth Century’ the Thinker by Auguste Rodin is in the centre of a war and skyscraper combination of airplanes and weaponry.

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 C.R.W Nevinson – Twentieth Century

‘​The Spirit Of Progress’ takes place on the seventh floor of the Paris studio of the author and journalist Sisley Huddleston, as seen in the painting ‘A Studio in Montparnasse’, with the windows, curtains from this setting.

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 C.R.W Nevinson – A Studio in Montparnasse, 1925

Curiously enough the painting ‘A Studio in Montparnasse’ was exhibited at Leicester Galleries in March 1926 as though it were finished but after the exhibition Nevinson repainted areas of it, adding a swagger to the curtains and removing the artist painting the nude. The original version is pictured below from The Sketch newspaper.

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 C.R.W Nevinson – A Studio in Montparnasse, from The Sketch, 3 March 1926

When Huddleston saw the painting he was outraged of the addition of the nude model. In ‘​The Spirit Of Progress’ the painting of the model is kept but is replaced with a stone Aphrodite of Milos like figure. In the painting ‘Asters’ the model is shown as a small piece of sculpture on the artists desk, though a mirror image, a print is the reverse of how it is drawn. This also happened when Nevinson transcribed ‘Loading Timber, Southampton Docks’ into the print ‘Dock Workers Loading’ it is a mirror image of the painting, being drawing as a print, the same as the painting and reversed in the printing.

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 C.R.W Nevinson – Asters

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As above – outside the window to the right are the funnels of an ocean-liner, the type that Nevinson painted below in 1916 with the cranes for the docks.

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 C.R.W Nevinson – Loading Timber, Southampton Docks, 1917.

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 C.R.W Nevinson – Dock Workers Loading, 1917.

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Above the ocean-liner in the mist is St Pauls, Nevinson painted the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral many times from different view points. Planes fly over head, not the Blitz yet, as ‘​The Spirit Of Progress’ dates from 1933. It was the early days of aviation and airline travel and aircraft had been used in the World War One as Nevinson was sent up, Biggles style to draw the De Havilland D.H.2 planes in Dog Fights.

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 C.R.W Nevinson – City of London from Waterloo Bridge, 1934

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 C.R.W Nevinson – St Paul’s from the South

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The Bayonets shown are found in many of Nevinson’s First World War pictures, below is an etching of French infantrymen matching though a town. As it is an early picture from the war it is more Futurist in style. The same can be said of ‘Returning to the trenches’, a painting of men marching off into the distance.

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 C.R.W Nevinson – A Dawn, 1914.

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 C.R.W Nevinson – Returning to the Trenches, 1914

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At the base of the the picture is a Howitzer Gun among the bayonet knives. Nevinson painted the gun on its own in a ‘A Howitzer Gun in Elevation’. A mechanical and rather Futuristic painting. The First World War being about the machines and not the humans operating them.

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 C.R.W Nevinson – A Howitzer Gun in Elevation, 1917

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 C.R.W Nevinson – New York, Night, 1920.

Nevinson was invited to New York in 1919 by David Keppel of the print publishers Frederick Keppel and Co, to exhibit his War prints. Manhattan’s architecture inspired him, not only by the sheer beauty of its sky-scrapers.

It is interesting to see what then happened between the first and second exhibition in New York. When Nevinson first went to New York, it was as a war hero, a survivor and documenter of war in a bold new ‘futurist’ way. And the first exhibition was a success.

He was clearly captivated by the city, compared to the London of the 1920s it must have been something, the skyscrapers of the day in New York would have been the Woolworth Building (60 stories) and the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Tower (50 stories), but most of the ‘skyscrapers’ of the early 1920s peaked around 30 stories tall. London didn’t start building above 20 stories until the 1960s. Nevinson is quoted below:

‘New York, being the Venice of this epoch, has triumphed, thanks to its engineers and architects, as successfully as the Venetians did in their time.. Where the Venetian drove stakes into his sandbanks to overcome nature, the American has pegged his city to the sky. No sight can be more exhilarating and beautiful than this triumph of man. 

His second exhibition was a series of paintings and etchings of New York that failed to capture the attention of the public. The press were kind but the works did not sell well and there is little reporting of the second exhibition in comparison to the first.

Below is an extract from the New York Herald, 24th October, 1920.

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“Art,” says Mr. Nevinson, “triumphs in utility, and the most beautiful products of
the modern world are a Rolls-Royce car and a skyscraper. They have been built for strict utility; their lines are perfect and they must appeal to the genuine artist. New York will be remembered for its introduction of the architecture of the skyscraper long after its people have been forgotten for other things.” ◊

New York should like Mr. Nevinson and his work, for surely he Is her friend. No
native could ever idealize America’s greatest city more than this foreigner. ◊

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 C.R.W Nevinson – The Soul of the Soulless City, Previously known as New York – an Abstraction ,1920.

The poor reception of this exhibition may have accelerated Nevinson’s disaffection with the city. His growing embitterment is perhaps reflected by the change of title. Originally exhibited in 1920 at the Bourgeois Galleries, ‘New York, as New York – an Abstraction’, it was re-titled ‘The Soul of the Soulless City’ in the Faculty of Arts Exhibition, Grosvenor House, London, in 1925 probably at Nevinson’s instigation. ♦

‘​The Spirit Of Progress’ has all the motifs mentioned above and of all my Nevinson prints is my favourite.

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M J. K. Walsh – A Dilemma of English Modernism, 2007
Walter Sickert – Burlington Magazine, The True Futurism – April – 1916
♠ Robin Garton – British Printmakers 1855 – 1955, 1992
C.R.W. Nevinson 1889 – 1946 Retrospective Exhibition Of Paintings, Drawings And Prints: Kettle’s Yard Gallery 1988
David Cohen – C.R.W. Nevinson, The Twentieth Century, p46, 1999.
◊ New York Herald, 24th October, 1920.
Tate, London, T07448.

War Art – The Horror

I am no longer an artist interested and curious, I am a messenger who will bring back word from men who are fighting to those who want the war to go forever. Feeble, inarticulate, will be my message, but it will have a bitter truth, and may it burn their lousy souls.’ – Paul Nash

This is a post about four artists and their reactions to war through their art.

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 Paul Nash – Mine Crater. Hill 60. December 1917- Stone Lithograph.

The Art of Paul Nash for the war was a remarkable thing. Graphic in detail of metaphor and gloom they showed the public, at home in Britain, the front line. Nash was supported by a host of art critics and writers that wrote to the nervous Admiralty reaffirming that these works must be seen by the public and not censored and locked away. The Sunday Times critic Frank Rutter wrote in August 1917: 

I have seen and studied carefully a number of Mr Paul Nash’s drawings and watercolours made in the Ypres salient and consider them to be among the best and most moving works of art dealing with the present war. Facilities enabling Mr Nash to produce further drawings and pictures of the Front could in my judgement only result in enriching contemporary British art.

In the next year the War Office would control and present what the public saw of this art with the 1918 series of four magazines called ‘British Artists at the Front’. Volume one: CRW Nevinson, Volume two: Sir John Lavery, Volume three: Paul Nash and Volume four: Eric Kennington. 

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 Paul Nash – Wire – Watercolour.

Francisco Goya (1746 – 1828) was a Spanish painter and printmaker. His early artistic works were oil paintings of romance and the Spanish court under Charles III. He’s also credited for painting one of the first totally nude, life-sized paintings in western art without mythological subtext. 

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 Francisco Goya – The Third of May, 1808. 

Towards the end of Goya’s life he produced a remarkable series of 80 etchings called ‘The Disasters of War’. The etchings and aquatints depict a set of scenes from the Spanish struggle against the French army under Napolean Bonaparte, who invaded Spain in 1808. When Napolean tried to install his brother Joseph Bonaparte, as King of Spain, the Spanish fought back, eventually aided by the British and the Portugese. 

Above is the painting ‘The Third of May’, painted in 1814. Goya sought to commemorate Spanish resistance to Napoleon’s armies during the occupation. During this time Goya was still a court painter, now under the French and may have been seen as a collaborator by some. Painted while the print series was in progress it marked a change in style, with a darker and more sinister attack on the French and a show of patriotism for the sacrificed Spanish.

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 Francisco Goya – Esto es peor (This is worse)

The prints show the French as a merciless army and the people in the crossfire, confused or abused victims. Some of the prints are supernatural. They are mostly divided into three styled themes:

war, famine, and political and cultural allegories. Goya travelled the battle fields and towns in the conflict to sketch out plans for the works. Above in ‘Esto es peor’, the image shows the aftermath of a battle with the mutilated torsos and limbs of civilian victims, mounted on trees, like fragments of marble sculpture.

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 Francisco Goya – Por una navaja (For a clasp knife). 

Above from ‘Por una navaja’, a garrotted priest grasps a crucifix in his hands. Pinned to his chest is a description of the crime for which he was killed – possession of a knife, that hangs from a cord around his neck. His body tied to an execution post while the bystanders look away in horror. This again is an image of horror after the event, with the consequences being witnessed by the civilians.

As graphic as the images were and even with ten years spent on their execution, it wasn’t until after Goya’s death that the prints where published. While it is unclear how much of the conflict Goya witnessed, it is generally accepted that he observed first-hand many of the events recorded.

The distance from the publication of Goya’s prints from the events helped them not be censored and with the war won, they reaffirmed Spain’s national pride.

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 USA propaganda to build popular support for American intervention in the European war, WW1. Note the Germanic tattoo on the hand.

Censorship of art is always something of contemporary issue. A few years before Nash’s works of the battle fields in the early months of World War One was the ‘The Rape of Belgium’. 

Belgium at the start of the war was in a state of neutrality from the 1839 ‘Treaty of London’. Under the treaty, the European powers recognised and guaranteed the independence and neutrality of Belgium. Article VII required Belgium to remain perpetually neutral, and by implication committed the signatory powers to guard that neutrality in the event of invasion. 

The German army desired to invade Belgium to face the French forces and in doing so the German army engaged in numerous atrocities against the civilian population of Belgium, defying the Treaty. 

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 A destroyed Leuven. The Germans burned the city from August 25 to 2 September 1914. 

The outcome was the ransacking and burning of civilian, church and government property; 6,000 Belgians were killed, 25,000 homes and other buildings in 837 communities destroyed in 1914 alone. One and a half million Belgians (20% of the entire population) fled from the invading German army. The Germans killed 27,300 Belgian civilians directly, and an additional 62,000 via the deprivation of food and shelter. 

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 Pierre-Georges Jeanniot – IV – The Massacre at Surice

In reaction to the 1914 carnage and maybe after Goya, Pierre-Georges Jeanniot produced a series of ten etchings in 1915 called ‘The Horrors of War’.

Jeannoit’s first exhibited the works in Paris for less than a day before the French police banned it on fear it would cause panic amongst the Parisian population. The etching plates where locked in a box and lost, only to be rediscovered nearly 100 years later. 

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 Pierre-Georges Jeanniot – X – In The Church 

These etchings, show a detailed situation of an atrocity, where as Goya’s works are almost surreal illustrations of war-craft. They were found and restored by Mark Hill who has had a limited edition printed of them. This posthumous edition was officially published on 4th August 2014, the centenary of the invasion of Belgium and the start of World War One.

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 Percy Smith – Death Waits

The last printmaker I want to look at is Percy Delf Smith. Smith made two series of war prints. ‘Drypoints of the War’ and ‘Dance of Death’ – both series of prints documenting life on the Western Front of the First World War. 

In 1916 he joined the Royal Marine Artillery and arrived at the Somme in October. He served as a gunner until 1919 in France and Belgium. Rather like Jeanniot, Smith witnessed the Germans destruction of Belgium. 

At the start of 1917 Percy Smith was located in Thiepval, Belgium where Lutyens’ Memorial to the Missing of the Somme now stands. When the Germans entered Thiepval on 26 September 1914, the village and its château were utterly destroyed. Smith’s diary entries describe the desolate landscape: 

Thurs. 4th (January 1917) ‘Trenching’ as usual. No shelling. Went over Thiepval hill. Thiepval simply a heap of rubbish decorated by gaunt tree trunks. Must sketch it. Finished reading Doyle’s ‘The White Company’– war as it was and read about while the guns cracked’.

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 Percy Smith – Thiepval Chateau, 1917 – from Sixteen Drypoints of War

Smith was covert about his drawings of time at the front line and was arrested twice of being a spy. He smuggled etching plates in books and magazines both too the front line and home. He printed ‘Drypoints of the War’ while on leave in 1917. 

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 Percy Smith – Thiepval, from Sixteen Drypoints of War, 1917

The ‘Drypoints of War’ are very matter of fact, they are images of the landscape and its desolation that was all around, similar in subject matter to the works of Paul Nash. Destruction with abstraction.

The second series of prints ‘Dance of Death’ was less of a witnessing of war and more of an attack of it. With death always watching, waiting or lingering with the solders, they were produced after the war in 1919.

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 Percy Smith – The Dance of Death No. 1: Death forbids

In ‘Death forbids’, a hand of the solder that is pinned down by a fallen tree and in the barbed wire reaches up, trying to get the attention of the medics and stretcher bearers to the top left of the picture. I am sure the skeletal death is meant to look harrowing and like he is suppressing the man, but to me it looks affectionate and like death is helping the man surrender to the fate. 

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 Percy Smith – The Dance of Death No. 3: Death awed.

In ‘Death awed’ we are presented with a death, shocked and impressed by the might of war, the carnage and ballistics of force that don’t even leave a body but two boots with broken bones in the wet earth.

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 Paul Nash – Ypres Salient At Night, 1918.