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1 From website Art of the First World War
Art of World War One From website Art of the First World War

2 Otto Dix Otto Dix ( ) painted himself twice on the same piece of paper thus producing one of the most important works to come out of the Great War. Immediately - even before experiencing the front line -Dix takes an ambivalent stance, both epic and painful. The Self-Portrait as a Soldier, lighted by reds and the white reserve, is a celebration of strength and violence verging on savagery. It can be seen as the quintessence of the image of war, proclaiming the necessity of the struggle and the intoxication of destruction with no remorse or regrets. On the other side, the Self-Portrait as a Gunner is in opposition to this over-simplified interpretation, with the all-pervasive black, the shadow around the helmeted head, the worried look and the stark contrast between the warlike symbols of the gold facings against a background of night and death. Despite his youth and his attraction to the war as an experience of the unknown, Dix is not unaware of the horror of war, the appalling daily chronicle of which he later did drawings and etchings. This same ambiguity can also be found in his Self-Portrait as Mars (1915).

3 Otto Dix, Selbstbildnis als Soldat (Self-Portrait as a Soldier), 1914, ink and watercolour on paper, on both sides, 68 x 53.5 cm, Municipal Gallery, Stuttgart.

4 Otto Dix, Selbstbildnis mit Artillerie-Helm (Self-Portrait Wearing a Gunner's Helmet), 1914, ink and watercolour on paper, on both sides, 68 x 53.5 cm, Municipal Gallery, Stuttgart.

5 " 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, Paris, Christian Bourgois, 1970.

6 Josh Nash 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 ( ) was one of the twelve spared by the shellfire. Painting from memory - unlike his brother Paul Nash - he produced this uncompromising picture which has remained the painter's best known work and one of the most remarkable to come out of the war, revealing as it does, with methodical neutrality, the absurdity of the unprotected offensive and the certainty of not coming back alive. Even more important than the artist's style or his naked realism is the strength of conviction of a picture intended to leave a mark on the memory.

7 John Nash, Over the Top, oil on canvas, 79. 4 x 107
John Nash, Over the Top, oil on canvas, 79.4 x 107.3 cm, Imperial War Museum, London.

8 John Nash Oppy was a village not far from Vimy
John Nash Oppy was a village not far from Vimy. Fortified by the Germans, it withstood the assaults of the British, Canadian and French troops until September 1918. Although not the most famous of his war paintings, John Nash's painting depicts with careful didacticism the circumstances of the confrontation - the destruction of nature, the plain ravaged by shell-holes which had been turned into lakes, shelters dug deep in the ground, and trenches with cemented floors and arches reinforced by sheet metal, and - once again - the immobility, the void, the lookout on his watch with his face at ground level among the roots and clods of earth. Unlike his elder brother Paul, John Nash favoured a painstaking naturalist style with geometrical schematisations.

9 John Nash, Oppy Wood, 1917. Evening, oil on canvas, 182. 8 x 213
John Nash, Oppy Wood, Evening, oil on canvas, 182.8 x 213.3 cm, Imperial War Museum, London.

10 " As soon as our line, set on its jolting way, emerged, I felt that two men close by had been hit, two shadows fell to the ground and rolled under our feet, one with a high-pitched scream and the other in silence like an ox. Another disappeared with a movement like a madman, as if he had been carried away. Instinctively, we closed ranks and pushed each other forward, always forward, and the wound in our midst closed itself. The warrant officer stopped and raised his sword, dropped it, fell to his knees, his kneeling body falling backwards in jerks, his helmet fell on his heels and he remained there, his head uncovered, looking up to the sky. The line has promptly split to avoid breaking this immobility. But we couldn't see the lieutenant any more. No more superiors, then... A moment's hesitation held back the human wave which had reached the beginning of the plateau. The hoarse sound of air passing through our lungs could be heard over the stamping of feet. - Forward! cried a soldier. So we all marched forward, moving faster and faster in our race towards the abyss. " Henri Barbusse, Le feu (Fire), Paris, Flammarion, 1916.

11 C. R. W. Nevinson Léger and Nevinson are clearly close in terms of generation, background and viewpoint. Geometry is their common language and in this representation of French infantrymen on their way, Nevinson uses the same elements: hemispherical helmets, cubic back-packs, cylindrical limbs and angular greatcoats. Just like Léger's card players, these resting soldiers are faceless, their only expression being one of fatigue, although they have not yet actually reached the battle zone.

12 Back Retour Zurück

13 We reach the tunnel. Down below, the atmosphere is heavy and damp
 We reach the tunnel. Down below, the atmosphere is heavy and damp. There is a mixed smell of wet clothing, tobacco and soot. Here and there, candles placed at waist height cast a reddish-brown light. At the far end, at the exit to the tunnel, we can see the grey light of day. We have to bend down to avoid banging our heads on the ceiling. To the right there are wire trellis twin bunk beds. Next to us, the passage is so narrow that a man who is eating there has to haul himself up from his bed to let us past. With his great blond beard and his blue eyes he is now sitting in the middle of wet socks, bread, shoes, cigars and writing paper, and he smiles at his own untidiness. " Ludwig Renn (pseud. de Adolf Friedrich Vith von Golssenau), Guerre, traduit par C. Burghard, Paris, Flammarion, 1929.

14 Paul Nash Along with Nevinson and Wyndham Lewis, Nash ( ) was one of the major British war painters who, like them, had been influenced by Cubism and Futurism prior to 1914. He signed up in 1914, was made a lieutenant in 1916, and fought near Ypres. An accident led to his repatriation in May 1917. He then set down to work from memory and from his sketches. Nash's paintings rely on detailed observation, from which he extracts the substance of his pictorial, lyrical and tragic effects. This is the case with this picture, where Nash is not content merely with a representation of the gun under camouflage nets. The initial flash of light and the reddening of the sky in contrast with the shadow of the foreground heighten the picture's expressiveness.

15 Paul Nash, A Howitzer Firing, oil on canvas, 71 x 91 cm, Imperial War Museum, London.

16 Paul Nash Produced for the Canadian War Memorial, this painting is reminiscent of the work of Vallotton, in spite of the difference in the two painters' ages, training and experience of the war. In this commemorative picture, Nash combines figurative elements - mainly tree trunks, barbed wire and the dark entrance to a dugout - with geometrical elements - now curved, like craters and smoke etc., now angular, like the explosion, parapets and wooden frames. It reminds one of early Nevinson, which relies on the same pictorial system. However, faced with a monumental format, Nash introduces a further element, with the brutality of his earthy colours, the muddy grey-browns, the red of the barbed wire and the whitish lights, forming sharp contrasts against the backdrop of an opaque sky.


18 Paul Nash 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. These three paintings by Paul Nash, while showing how he moved from Cubo-Futurism towards descriptive naturalism, bear witness to the extreme violence of the destruction, in the wetlands, in the mutilated woodlands and around the town, itself destroyed. Void can be seen as the archetype of the Great War landscapes: not a soldier to be seen, abandoned lorries and guns, flooded trenches, a limp corpse among the shells and rifles, smoke and, in the distance a plane, either dropping bombs or falling to the ground, we cannot tell. On top of everything, it rains continually. There can be no more hope of coming back alive from such a place which no longer has a name, which has become a field of death.  

19 Paul Nash, The Ypres Salient at Night, 1917-18, oil on canvas, 71
Paul Nash, The Ypres Salient at Night, , oil on canvas, 71.1 x 91.4 cm, Imperial War Museum, London.

20 " 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.

21 Paul Nash, Void (Néant), 1918, oil on canvas, 71. 4 x 91
Paul Nash, Void (Néant), 1918, oil on canvas, 71.4 x 91.7 cm, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa.

22 Paul Nash, The Menin Road, 1919, oil on canvas, 182
Paul Nash, The Menin Road, 1919, oil on canvas, 182.9 x 317 cm, Imperial War Museum, London.

23 "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.

24 Max Beckmann Beckmann adds to the immediacy of this image by depicting the fraction of a second before the explosion. He makes it even more expressive by avoiding too much depth, with a pile of corpses in the foreground, soldiers firing or running away around the incandescent ball which is about to spew out flames and shrapnel. There is no escape for the man who has turned away with his arms spread out, or for the man firing the gun. A similar fate to that of the disfigured victims all around awaits them. The construction of the work and the tragedy of the scene are so effective that the representation of the explosion itself is no longer a problem. A bare sketch of black fragments around a white mass is sufficient because what really matters is not the explosion, but the announcement of the destruction and the description of the terror. In a letter to his wife on October 11th 1914, Beckmann wrote: "When an enormous salvo lands here, it's as if the gates of eternity have been opened. Everything is suggestive of space, distance, infinity. I would like to paint the din if I could." He did not paint it, but he did engrave it.


26 " Twenty yards behind us, clods of earth flew out from a white cloud and cracked through the high branches. Their echo resounded through the undergrowth for a long time. Frantic eyes met each other and bodies, crushed by a feeling of powerlessness, pressed together on the ground. A hail of shots rang out. Noxious gases infiltrated under the thicket and heavy smoke enveloped the treetops and trunks, branches came crashing to the ground, and cries could be heard. We got up quickly and left, groping our way, harassed by the explosions and the deafening impact of the shots, from tree to tree, turning around huge trunks like hunted animals searching for cover. A dugout towards which many of us were running and which I was heading for myself received a direct hit that shattered its log roof and sent its heavy pieces of wood flying in all directions. " Ernst Jünger, Storms of Steel..

27  At that moment, another whistling sound rang out up in the air; we all felt it, our hearts in our mouths, this one's for us. Then a huge, deafening din - the shell had landed right in the midst of us. Half-dazed, I got to my feet. In the huge shell-hole, machine-gun cartridge belts set off by the explosion glowed with a crude pink light. They lit up the heavy smoke where a mass of twisted blackened bodies lay and the shadows of survivors were running away in every direction. At the same time many appalling screams of pain and appeals for help could be heard. The dark mass of people turning around the bottom of this glowing, smoking cauldron opened out for a second almost like the vision of a hellish nightmare, the deepest abyss of horror. " Ernst Jünger, Storms of Steel.

28 George Grosz In January 1917, Grosz, who up to then had been convalescing, was recalled to his unit. The following day he was hospitalised and shortly afterwards, owing to the seriousness of his depression and the nervous disorders which affected him, he was interned in an institution for the mentally ill. He experienced repeated attacks accompanied by nightmarish hallucinations. In April, the painter was declared unfit for further service. Explosion was painted shortly afterwards, not as the memory of the fighting, but rather as an allegory of the destruction: a town is razed and catches fire in a bombardment and cannot escape the destructive fury that had taken hold of Europe. This is Cubo-Futurism in a dreamlike vein.  

29 George Grosz, Explosion, 1917, oil on panel, 47. 8 x 68
George Grosz, Explosion, 1917, oil on panel, 47.8 x 68.2 cm, Museum of Modern Art, New York.

30 Georges Leroux Leroux (1877- ?) belonged to a camouflage unit and served in northern France and Belgium. He told how on returning from a reconnaissance mission he had seen "a group of French soldiers taking shelter in a great shell-hole full of water" and how he later painted the picture from a sketch made that same evening. With a realism quite unlike the style of Nash or Léger, he produced a work which attempts to represent as accurately as possible the unrepresentable reality of war.

31 Georges Leroux, L'Enfer (Hell), 1917-18, oil on canvas, 114. 3 x 161
Georges Leroux, L'Enfer (Hell), , oil on canvas, 114.3 x 161.3 cm, Imperial War Museum, London.

32 " I climbed up to the top of the gully I am in
" I climbed up to the top of the gully I am in. Behind me was Fleury, and in front of me Vaux and Douaumont. I could see out over an area of ten square kilometres that had been turned into a uniform desert of brown earth. The men were all so tiny and lost in it that I could hardly see them. A shell fell in the midst of these little things, which moved for a moment, carrying off the wounded - the dead, as unimportant as so many ants, were left behind. They were no bigger than ants down there. The artillery dominates everything. A formidable, intelligent weapon, striking everywhere with such desperate consistency. " Fernand Léger, Verdun, November 7th 1916.

33 Félix Vallotton Unlike Bonnard, Vallotton pushed his own experiment to the limit.
Using sketches drawn in Champagne, with characteristic attention to detail, he painted a landscape of ruins in gentle graduations of late afternoon light. The light slides over crumbled walls and the ribs of a vault indicating that a church once stood here. Flowers have blossomed among the rubble and the overturned tiles, whilst the trees stand straight against the clear sky in the background. The colours are in perfect harmony, the style is delicately Japanese and the composition highlighted with alternating bands of colour. None of this corresponds to the subject. Vallotton is aware of this and plays on this contradiction as far as he can so as to expose the destruction of man by man in all its absurdity while unchanging nature carries on undisturbed. During the time spent in the Champagne and Argonne regions and on his return to Paris, Vallotton repeatedly sought to exploit this sharp contrast to draw out its expressive potential. He remained unconvinced by the result, and later experimented with Cubo-Futurism in Verdun.  

34 Félix Vallotton, L'église de Souain en silhouette (The Church of Souain, Silhouetted), 1917, oil on canvas, 97 x 130 cm, National Gallery of Art, Washington. Félix Vallotton, L'église de Souain en silhouette (The Church of Souain, Silhouetted), 1917, oil on canvas, 97 x 130 cm, National Gallery of Art, Washington. Félix Vallotton, L'église de Souain en silhouette (The Church of Souain, Silhouetted), 1917, oil on canvas, 97 x 130 cm, National Gallery of Art, Washington. Félix Vallotton, L'église de Souain en silhouette (The Church of Souain, Silhouetted), 1917, oil on canvas, 97 x 130 cm, National Gallery of Art, Washington. Félix Vallotton, L'église de Souain en silhouette (The Church of Souain, Silhouetted), 1917, oil on canvas, 97 x 130 cm, National Gallery of Art, Washington.

35 We finally halted, after how many hours
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.

36 John Singer Sargent During his stay in France in the summer of 1918, Sargent travelled all over the Picardy and Artois regions. In Arras, he painted the ruins of the cathedral and collapsed houses like this one. A shell has burst through the wall, revealing an old horse-drawn carriage. The floor has fallen on top of part of it with planks of wood left hanging in mid-air. With his skill and rapid execution, Sargent has captured the scene in watercolours without seeking additional detail for extra pathos. The Scottish soldiers resting nearby are perfectly indifferent to these ruins, having grown accustomed to seeing them.

37 John Singer Sargent, A Street in Arras, 1918, watercolour, 39 x 52 cm, Imperial War Museum, London.

38  The village disappeared, never before had I seen a village just vanish like that (...) Here, among the massacred trees which in the fog surrounded us in a ghostly scene, everything was shapeless, there was not a piece of wall even, not a fence or gate still standing, and we were surprised to note that underneath the tangle of beams, stones and iron, there were paving stones - this had been a road! It might have been a dirty, marshy wasteland not far from a town, which, regularly over a period of many years, without leaving an empty space, had dumped its rubble, its demolition material and old utensils: a uniform bed of rubbish and debris through which we plunged forward very slowly, with great difficulty. " Henri Barbusse, Le Feu.

39 " In the space of a few days, the heavy artillery had turned a peaceful lodge into a horrific spectacle. Whole houses had been flattened or cut in two by a direct hit, so that the bedrooms and their furniture hung above the chaos, like stage sets in the wings of a theatre. The stench of corpses rose up from much of the debris, as the first bombardment had taken the inhabitants completely by surprise and had buried a large number of them under the ruins before they had a chance to get out of their houses. A little girl was lying in front of a house, in the middle of a pool of red. (...) The roads were now only small pathways, zigzagging across and underneath huge piles of beams and masonry. Fruit and vegetables were rotting in gardens ploughed up by shellfire. " Ernst Jünger, Storms of Steel.

40 Death "He was stretched out, with his face in a pool of blood
Death "He was stretched out, with his face in a pool of blood. When I turned him over, I could see a large hole in his forehead, there was nothing more to be done. I had just exchanged a few words with him and suddenly I realised that he was no longer answering my questions. When I turned the corner a few seconds later, he was already dead. There was something fantastic about this end." This is how Jünger recounts the death of someone he had seen fall close to him. There exists no account of the Great War which is not full of similar stories. Death was a daily occurrence and there were bodies everywhere. In the places where the fighting was the most violent and the longest, the corpses piled up. Those who dug shelters uncovered human remains. Others made parapets out of them. The living ate and slept surrounded by bodies. Near Verdun, Léger tried to find a dugout. "My main concern", he wrote, "was to avoid having a corpse close by me. I made the mistake of digging the hole to rest my head a little too deep. I uncovered two feet with shoes on, it was the body of a Frenchman (the Hun only wore boots). I dug a little further along to try and find a better spot. There was nothing doing. There were human remains everywhere." 

41 The newspapers hid nothing from their readers.
As of autumn 1914, the first photographs of bodies were published, being careful however to choose enemy ones. Gradually however, such compunction disappeared, and on October 8th 1916 Le Miroir published a front page picture of the entangled bodies of a German and a French infantryman in a shell-hole. Meanwhile, the escalation of macabre and cruel horrors continued, with photographs of pieces of skeleton, charred bodies and communal graves becoming commonplace in the wartime press and in the cinema, who followed this trend. Jacques-Emile Blanche attended a cinema screening of a number of films devoted to the destruction of a Zeppelin over France: "Here was another film showing the bodies of the crew. People's nerves had to be blunted for the general public to look quite happily at the white back, the back of the blond, chubby German whose head was a block of coal to the slow waltz rhythm chosen by the conductor of the orchestra. The other bodies were carbonised, their arms and legs turned into charcoal.“ It is therefore no surprise if the drawings, engravings and paintings are full of death and that it should be the one subject that returns obsessively in the works of Dix, and that emerges through so many others. 

42 Otto Dix There is hardly an engraving in the War set in which Dix does not introduce the macabre.
Sometimes it is the only subject of a plate, sometimes it comes as an aside, but is no more bearable for that. In this case, the artist places two different types of drawing style side by side; the more detailed one portrays a starving, bestial soldier, and the more elliptical one shows a skeleton buried close to him - the dead man that he will soon become. From one to the other, the styles become lighter, broken up and ghostly - a metaphor for the destruction of the flesh.

43 Otto Dix, Mahlzeit in der Sappe (Lorettohöhe) (Meal in the Sapping Trench) (Lorette), 1924, watercolour, 35.3 x 47.5 cm, Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin.

44 Max Beckmann Stretcher-bearers and nurses place the bodies of those who had died from their wounds in coffins - a day-to-day scene that Beckmann knew well. The worst wounds were hidden under dressings. The bodies piled up. They had to work fast and it was no time for emotion or compassion whilst the mechanical administration of death was in operation.

45 Max Beckmann, Das Leichenschauhaus (The Morgue), 1915, pointe-sèche, 25,7 x 35,7 cm.

46 William Orpen Somewhere, two dead men in a partly destroyed trench.
They have not yet melted into the chalky soil which has already half covered them. The painting is imperturbable, so at least it appears, and Orpen pays no less attention to the broken duckboards with the pillars planted in the earth than to the blue face and the still tensed arm of the corpse lying on its back. The sky is admirably blue. One thinks of the closing lines of All Quiet on the Western Front: "he fell in October nineteen-eighteen, on a day that was so quiet on the entire front that the despatch merely stated that all was quiet on the western front."

47 William Orpen, Dead Germans in a Trench, 1918, oil on canvas, 91
William Orpen, Dead Germans in a Trench, 1918, oil on canvas, 91.4 x 76.2 cm, Imperial War Museum, London. © Imperial War Museum.

48 Félix Vallotton Whilst Grosz uses the resources of lithography, Vallotton relies on wood engraving to produce a more diagrammatic picture, a symbol rather than a description, two dead men in an entanglement of wires. Their forms are barely distinguishable from the tangled wire, their limbs resemble wooden posts and their bodies are already disappearing. Overhead, a far cry from Orpen's insolently blue sky, a beautiful starry night - nature remains indifferent to the carnage.

49 Félix Vallotton, Les barbelés (Barbed-wire), 1916, woodcut, 25. 2 x 33
Félix Vallotton, Les barbelés (Barbed-wire), 1916, woodcut, 25.2 x 33.5 cm Galerie Paul Vallotton, Lausanne.

50 Luc-Albert Moreau Moreau (1882-1948) fought at Verdun, on the Chemin des Dames and in Picardy.
He was wounded several times, and was among those indelibly marked by the war, to such an extent that during the 1920s and 30s, his work was mostly made up of paintings of Verdun, memories that he evoked tirelessly from drawings sketched whilst on the front. This particular drawing of a body impaled on a tree trunk broken by shells is effective through its simplicity and powerful hatching. We find the same scene the horror of which was also captured on photograph. Recognisable too is one aspect remarked on by Léger - the force of expression in the hands with the outstretched fingers in a tense spasm.

51 Luc-Albert Moreau, Octobre 1917, attaque du Chemin des Dames (October 1917, Chemin des Dames Assault), 1917, ink, Musée d'Histoire Contemporaine - BDIC, Paris.

52  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.

53 C. R. W. Nevinson 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". This gesture earned him a reprimand from the War Office, for it was forbidden either to show reality or to denounce censorship. Nevinson had only painted what every soldier had seen dozens of times: comrades who had fallen under fire during pointless assaults. The reaction was all the more violent as the painting had nothing in common with Nevinson's Cubo-Futurist paintings of 1915 and 1916. Demonstrating a realism inspired by Courbet, devoid of all geometry, and more photographic than any other of his paintings, Paths of Glory is a work which leaves little room for aesthetic commentary inasmuch as the effect produced is essentially moral and political. I n 1957, the American film director Stanley Kubrick used the title Paths of Glory for a 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...

54 C. R. W. Nevinson, Path of Glory, 1917, oil on canvas, 45
C. R. W. Nevinson, Path of Glory, 1917, oil on canvas, 45.7 x 61 cm, Imperial War Museums

55 Otto Dix The light of the flares reveals what was hidden in the night: a mound of twisted bodies, skulls, limbs torn apart - a dance of death. This, one of Dix's most expressionistic works, boils down everyday experience into a central theme. The clashes of colour intensify the violence of the painting as can be sensed in the artist's vigorous brushstrokes, in the deformations, the explosions of red and white and the patches of blue partly covering the grey and green. Later, Dix returned to this theme in an uncompromisingly realistic style; and yet this chaotic, vehement painting of 1917 conveys the revulsion and the terror no less effectively.


57 Otto Dix Dix's other manner
Otto Dix Dix's other manner. Impassive detail and the accumulation of elements for an exhaustive description of his subject: corpses abandoned in a destroyed dugout. A plant has taken root in the crownless skull. There is an arm and a jaw missing. A leg has come away at the knee. The stomachs have emptied themselves on the clothes and on the ground. The process of putrefaction is underway. Jünger describes a very similar scene: "One day while I was forcing my way, alone, through the undergrowth, I was surprised by a gentle whistling and gurgling noise. I moved towards the sound and fell upon two corpses which seemed to have been called back by the heat wave to a kind of life in death. The night was heavy and silent; I remained there for a long time, fascinated, watching this disturbing scene."


59 Otto Dix, Schädel (Skull), 1924, etching, 25. 5 x 19
Otto Dix, Schädel (Skull), 1924, etching, 25.5 x 19.5 cm, Historial de la Grande Guerre, Péronne.

60 William Orpen During the summer of 1916, a fierce battle took place between the Germans and the British at Thiepval in the Somme and the surrounding region. A few months later, Orpen returned to the scene of the battle to find the stones littered with skulls, bones and fragments of clothing. Typically, Orpen refused to choose, his eye and his painting enumerate the human remains and broken objects without distinction. The weather is fine, and tufts of grass and poppies, are growing in the chalk ground around the scattered, soon to be forgotten skeletons.


62 " It was a disgusting heap, a monstrous exhuming of wax-like Bavarians on top of others who had already turned black, and whose twisted mouths exhaled a rotten stench; a pile of maimed flesh, with corpses which looked as if they had been unscrewed: feet and knees were completely wrenched the wrong way round, and as if watching over them all, there was one corpse standing upright, leaning against the side, propped up by a headless monster. " Roland Dorgelès, Les croix de bois (The Wooden Crosses).

63 Otto Dix At a time when the Nazis had banned him from teaching and exhibiting, Dix secretly produced this last painting in memory of his war and its dead. Even more so than the triptych, the style is inspired by the old German masters, notably the treatment of the sky, the roots and the branches. The homage to Barbusse, a French veteran and member of the French Communist Party until his death in Moscow in 1935 and an author inevitably outlawed by Hitler's Reich, shows the extent of Dix's uncompromising political opposition to the regime as it again prepared for war. The literary allusion helps to specify the subject - no longer the carnage, but the flooding of the trenches, which made fighting impossible and forced soldiers from both sides to flee their dugouts with no thoughts of killing each other. During the night they sought shelter out of the water's reach. At dawn, they discovered that they were close to one another. Barbusse wrote: "It had now become an uncanny field of rest. The ground was dotted with beings sleeping or gently stirring, lifting an arm, raising their heads, coming back to life or else dying. The enemy trench finally collapsed in on itself at the bottom of great undulations and swamped shell-holes spiked with mud, and formed a line of puddles and wells. In places, you could actually see it moving, breaking up and slipping over the edges still overhanging (...) All these men with cadaverous faces in front of us and behind us, exhausted, drained of speech and all will, all these men weighed down with mud, almost carrying their own burial, looked like each other, as if they were naked. From both sides, men came out of that dreadful night wearing exactly the same uniform of destitution and dirt."  


65 Albin Egger-Linz When war broke out, Egger-Linz ( ) was forty-six and, unlike the major Viennese artists of the time such as Schiele and Kokoschka, too old to take a direct part in the war. He did however witness the fighting on the Alpine Front from 1915 on. But, more than his portraits and his few paintings of the fighting in the mountains, he is best known for his monumental compositions. Even before the war was over, he represented it symbolically in War ( ) and in this painting. Taken from the historical viewpoint alone, despite the details of the helmets, stick grenades and boots, this painting is not plausible. As the title tells us, his purpose lies elsewhere, in the statement that war condemns each man to the anonymity of a shared, inexplicable and almost invisible death. The faces are expressionless or turned towards the ground. The postures are identical. The nameless men have lost all individuality, and sink together in step into the pockmarked earth in which they are to be buried.  

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