More honest than glamorous, the majority of works in this exhibit were created by the eight original Army Artists assigned to the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) in France to document the experiences of our nation’s first truly modern Army. World War I marked the first time in Army history that artists were officially commissioned in order to record the war as it was happening. Charles Dana Gibson, director of the Division of Pictorial Publicity, recommended that artists witness and document the experiences of the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe. The War Department selected prominent artists and illustrators, all well regarded in their profession. They were commissioned as captains in the Corps of Engineers and sent to join the Army at the front in war torn France. While renderings of famous generals and stylized battle paintings were the usual subjects in military art, the Army artists of WWI were encouraged to break with that tradition. In this new work we see the common Soldier, battle weary, trudging through muddy, devastated fields in gas masks or carrying wounded comrades from the battlefield. The artists showcased in this exhibition may have seen more action than many of their fellow Soldiers and they amassed a collection of more than eight hundred works.
Walter Jack Duncan, Newly Arrived Troops Debarking at Brest, Brest, France, 1917
Located in Brittany, the westernmost point of France, Brest was perhaps the most common port of entry for the 2 million American “Doughboys” who traveled to France during the First World War. In this image, troops, still wearing their “campaign hats,” disembark from their ship, carrying weapons and gear down the gangplank onto the French docks. A celebrated illustrator before the war, Walter Duncan worked to document transportation and other daily labors of the war effort, which generally escaped mention in the daily newspapers.
What do you suppose the atmosphere might feel like if you were to step inside this image?
Wallace Morgan, Infantry and Tanks Advancing on Field, France, 1918
Wallace Morgan had 20 years of experience as an illustrator and staff artist for several New York newspapers before World War I began. Throughout his service as an artist with the American Expeditionary Forces, Morgan’s drawings and monochrome watercolors demonstrate his avid interest in the landscape of war. Cavalrymen watch as columns of French Soldiers, complete with tanks, horse drawn transport, and equipment, trudge across the battered French countryside, conjuring the atmosphere of struggle and desolation that define the essence of modern combat.
How do you think the depiction of the landscape might relate to the mood of the Soldiers in this image?
George Matthew Harding, Army Camp, France 1917
World War I launched the beginning of mechanized warfare through increasing use of motor vehicles, but horses remained the primary mode of transport. The U.S. Army used horse-drawn vehicles to move supplies and equipment over the difficult terrain and damaged roads at the front. In this image of a bivouac somewhere behind the lines in France, George Harding documents the last time that horses were essential partners of the American Soldier. An art professor at the University of Pennsylvania and correspondent for the Saturday Evening Post and Harper's Monthly Magazine, George Harding became an Army combat artist in 1917.
What do you think it might sound like if you were to step inside this picture?
William James Aylward, Crossing the Pontoon Bridge, Chateau-Thierry, Chateau-Thierry, France, 1918
In this gouache and crayon illustration by William Aylward, a convoy of supply wagons and artillery crosses a temporary bridge supported by five canal boats over the River Marne. Aylward recorded this incident in the aftermath of the Battle of Château-Thierry, the AEF’s first major action of the war. A noted pre-war artist and illustrator of marine subjects, Aylward often paid special attention to recording the Army’s ports and transportation systems.
Looking at this image, what do you think this artist might have found so interesting about nautical transportation during the war?
George Matthews Harding, Traffic To Mont St. Père, Mont St. Père, France 1918
French infantrymen and “Doughboys” of the Army’s 3d Division pack the road to Mont St. Père as disconsolate German prisoners trudge to the rear past trucks filled with advancing American Soldiers. Almost abstract in composition, George Harding’s densely populated painting recording the Allied counter-offensive across the Marne in July 1918 gives the viewer a sense of the confusion and disorder faced by Soldiers in combat, even in moments of victory. After the war, Harding returned to his job as an art professor at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.
What choices do you think this artist made in order to capture the feeling conveyed by this image?
William James Aylward, On the Trail of the Hun and Jules Andre Smith, Beyond Seicheprey, 1918
Aylward’s watercolor, On the Trail of the Hun, shows Army supply columns in the wake of advancing American troops during the St. Mihiel offensive in September 1918. Capt. J. Andre Smith’s drawing, Beyond Seicheprey, also records scenes near St. Mihiel, as columns of American Soldiers pass captured German trenches near Seicheprey, France. Capt. Smith recalled the elation that followed the breakthrough. “With the Germans in retreat,” he wrote, “their artillery silenced, our advance into this wide sweep of No-man’s Land carried with it more than the thrill of a victorious pursuit; it was a tremendous adventure … we were free at last to scramble above ground and step out with a man’s stride into the realization of a dream.” Among Smith’s artistic accomplishments for the Army was the design of the Distinguished Service Cross.
Both of these images show the same region of Lorraine, France before and after months of battle took place. How does the atmosphere change between these images?
George Harding, Storming Machine Gun, France, 1918
In this charcoal sketch of the fighting during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, American infantrymen, supported by a light tank, storm a German machine gun nest at bayonet point. A German potato masher grenade flies overhead, attesting to the ferocity of the hand-to-hand fight. The artist George Harding recalled, “…there is little chance of studying the subject beforehand. If an attack is scheduled, it happens rain or shine, night or day … to know his material, the war artist puts on a steel helmet, his gas mask, his trench boots, his trench coat and laden with only a sketch book, a couple of pencils and some emergency rations in his pockets, like any soldier present, he takes his chances … .”
In the background of this image, artist George Harding included an early tank. What do you think the artist might have been thinking about when he decided to place it where he did in the image?
Harry Everett Townsend, Harvey Thomas Dunn, and George Matthews Harding
WWI, often called the Great War by the men who fought it, can be characterized as one of most horrific events in human history. In these works, three Army artists sought to capture the horrors of the modern battlefield – poison gas, machine guns, powerful artillery and the first armored fighting machines -- the tanks. In On the Gas Alert, Harry Townsend captures the stomach churning anxiety of a gas alert as Soldiers hunker in a trench and struggle to don cumbersome gas masks. Harvey Thomas Dunn in, The Tanks at Seicheprey, Renault Tanks smash through barbed wire entanglements and over the German trenches to open the way for advancing American infantrymen. Finally, George Harding’s Going Thru Gas, shows the horror of combat in clouds of poison gas, where the Soldier, garbed in drab uniforms is robbed of even the individuality of his face, forced to wear one of the most devastating symbols of WWI, the gas mask.
These three works were created by different artists. What are some of the differences and similarities you notice between these images?
Harvey Thomas Dunn, Sunday Morning at Cunel, France
A wounded Soldier shelters next to a comrade while other Soldiers push cautiously through the sun dappled trees of the Bois de la Pultière north of the village of Cunel, France during fighting in the Meuse-Argonne on 12 October 1918. Harvey Thomas Dunn’s title, Sunday Morning at Cunel, shows that modern warfare does not take a pause on Sunday for a day of rest.
A graduate of the Chicago Art Institute, Dunn studied under American master Howard Pyle and became a popular educator and illustrator with much of his work appearing in the Saturday Evening Post. As a member of the Army artists group, Dunn worked tirelessly to amass a powerful collection of graphic images of the war’s devastation.
What do you think this artist might have been thinking about when he chose the title for this artwork?
George Matthews Harding, American Wounded Making Way to First Aid Station in the Village of Marne During German Attack, France, 1918
In George Harding’s charcoal and crayon drawing American Wounded Making Way to First Aid Station in the Village of Marne During German Attack, the “walking wounded” painfully trudge across a corpse strewn battlefield. The heavy toll of war is made apparent by their weary gait while a bandaged German prisoner is borne on a makeshift stretcher by his comrades.
What steps do you think this artist took to create this image?
Ernest Clifford Peixotto, The Church, St. Aignant and Neufmaison, France 1918
Too old for military service in World War I, Ernest Peixotto was selected as an Army Artist, and was well chosen for the task of covering the war in France. He had lived in France for many years before the war, was fluent in the language and had a great understanding of the land and people. As an established artist with an intimate knowledge of France before the war, Piexotto produced a body of work that captured the nature of the French countryside and recorded the tragic destruction wrought by the conflict.
What do you see that might give you clues as to how the artist felt about the subjects of these artworks?
Jules Andre Smith and Wallace Morgan
Many of the original Army artists were particularly sensitive to the destroyed architecture of the medieval French towns they encountered at the front. Jules Andre Smith, creator of Badonviller, and Marching Through a Ruined Town, held a master’s degree in architecture from Cornell University. He was in training for a commission at Plattsburgh, New York when he suffered an injury that led to a post war amputation of the right leg. Nevertheless he served as an artist and recounted his wartime experiences in a book, In France, With the American Expeditionary Forces, Smith also toured veteran’s hospitals, documenting the experiences of the wounded and their recovery. In Wallace Morgan’s, Mopping Up Cierges, Soldiers of the 110th Infantry Regiment fight their way through the wrecked town in July 1918 during the Meuse-Argonne offensive.
Why do you think these illustrations of American Soldiers marching through devastated French towns held such fascination for the artists?
Kerr Erby, 1917
Born in Canada and educated in the United States, Kerr Eby enlisted in the Army in 1917 serving on an ambulance crew and as a camouflage artist. Though he was not one of the official eight commissioned Army artists, Eby nevertheless created many powerful works while serving with the AEF. His bitter, Match Sellers – Class of ’17, shows a column of Soldiers blinded by mustard gas, being led to the rear. Eby personally recalled the feelings of the Soldiers in his drawing, Where Do We Go? -- “…what I do remember and brilliantly – is what it looked like and felt like. … The feeling of the night movements. The endless walking in a semi-coma with perhaps your hand on a gun barrel to keep you steady with always the danger of going to sleep on your feet and being crushed by a caisson behind.” Eby went on to serve in the Combat Artists Program during WWII, eventually dying from a tropical disease while documenting the war in the Pacific.
The title of Kerr Eby’s work Match Sellers – Class of ’17 refers to the jobs not requiring eyesight that many of these Soldiers would be forced to take upon returning home after their exposure to mustard gas. What do you think might have been the inspiration behind the title of the second work, Where Do We Go?
Harry Everett Townsend, Infantryman
Narrowing the field of interest from the groups of men portrayed in previous works, this charcoal portrait by Harry Everett Townsend captures the profile of a single American Doughboy. Half obscured by his helmet, his face is that of an everyman. He carries his supplies on his back and holds his bayonet near, ready to take action at any moment. The rendering of this image, and all those that come before it, are in remembrance of those Soldiers who fought in the trenches of France. Nearly a century later, these works remain to commemorate their sacrifices.
What can you tell about the character of this Soldier by looking at this artwork?
William James Aylward, On The Trail Of The Hun, St. Mihiel Drive.
Jules Andre Smith, Beyond Siecheprey, France.
On the Gas Alert, Harry Everett Townsend, France.
The Tanks at Seicheprey, Harvey Thomas Dunn, France.
Going Thru Gas , George Harding, France, 1918.
The Church, St. Aignant, Ernest Clifford Peixotto, France.
Neufmaison: A Typical Village of the Lorraine Front in Which the American Troops are Billeted
Ernest Clifford Peixotto, France.
Badonviller, Jules Andre Smith, 1918.
Marching Through A Ruined Town, Jules Andre Smith, France, 1918.
Mopping Up Cierges, Wallace Morgan, 1918.
Match Sellers – Class of ‘17 , Kerr Eby, France, 1917.
Where Do We Go?, Kerr Eby, France, 1917.