Cardiff University Conference on Visual
Culture of the First World War, 13 November
A Commission in the Army
Why paint war? This paper will address
that essential question by looking at a range of British artists
from the Great War (and some from more recent conflicts), not only
those who were commissioned as official war artists and recorders
but a wider range of non-professionals, those who in peacetime worked
as surveyors, draughtsmen, architects, scene painters for the theatre,
and those who were talented sketchers of the English landscape.
Many were called upon to exercise their creative skills in the service
of the war, producing an extraordinarily diverse body of material.
Much of their ‘trench art’ is to be seen in small, private
and personal notebooks, on Mess menus or Divisional Christmas Cards,
on irreverent newsletters or Brigade Broadsheets, or as illustrations
in letters home from the front. They also formed the cadre of soldiers
required to carry out panoramic sketching and surveillance drawings,
work which required precision, disciplined draughtsmanship and an
ability to unlearn techniques taught in the art school.
This illustrated paper will look in detail at their work, and at
the negotiation skills that were essential to any successful commission.
comparisons between Spencer’s ontology of reconciliation with
Wall’s bleaker montage of disaster and death.