Friday, March 03, 2006

WWI In Film and Paint

On December 24th, 1914 the entrenched forces arrayed against each other near Ypres put down their arms on Christmas Eve. With an exchange of songs and camaraderie, French, German, and Scottish soldiers searched for a way to overcome - for one brief night - the conflict that raged between them.

As morning dawned the physical and cultural No Man's Land that divided them reappeared ...

The Academy Award nominated film Joyeux Noel, which opens today in New York and Los Angeles, explores these events and the human cost of war. The film is up for Best Foreign Language Film at Sunday's Oscars.

Oscar Page on Joyeux Noel

Joyeux Noel Trailer

During World War I, many artists painted significant works:

Pierre Bonnard
"Un Village en Ruines Près du Ham"
63 x 85 cm oil on canvas 1917
Musée d'Histoire Contemporaine, Paris

Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947) was in a group of painters assigned in 1916 to go and paint the war. All that remains from his attempt to visually describe the conflict is a single unfinished painting of troops and charred ruins. In the distance, a Red Cross van portends future casualities. The painting is only roughed out- yet this incomplete, almost haphazard state poignantly renders a moment when the tools of art seem to be rendered mute by violence .

Eric Kennington
Great Britain
"Gassed and Wounded"
71.1 x 91.4 cm. oil on canvas 1918
Imperial War Museum, London

Max Beckmann
Das Leichenschauhaus (The Morgue)
25.7 x 35.7 cm. drypoint 1915

For a few months during WWI, Beckmann served as a nurse. In September 1914, he confided to his wife: "The doctors showed me the most horrific wounds with incredible kindness and skill. Everywhere, despite the open windows and the brightly lit room, there was an acrid stench of rotting flesh. I held out for about an hour and a half and then I had to get out into the fields."

More Images at:
Art of the First World War


kimbofo said...

Oh wow. Great post. Had not heard of the film Joyeux Noel, but it sounds like it is right up my street.

I recently read All Quiet on the Western Front and was moved to tears. The art works in your post have had a similar effect.

Hans said...

...and too many artists died.

gregg chadwick said...


the meatgrinder of ww1 truly decimated the arts
franz marc comes to mind and so many others.

Kent Chadwick said...


Thank you for the link to the Art of WWI exhibit, notably organized by German, Austrian, French, and English museums. What struck me most about the work is that each of the artists tested their style, technique, and aesthetic against the violence and suffering they witnessed. For example, Bonnard's "Une Village en Ruines..." uses the same sensuous brushstrokes and palette as his nudes au bain. And in almost all the cases, the artists' styles could handle the horror and expand enough to capture the intensity, and drama, and pain. Leger, in his "La Cocarde, l'avion brise" uses his cubism to investigae the wreakage of a downed French plane. So to the common question: "What does a war demand of artists?" I find the answer is, "Their best."