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Conference Papers
Conference Papers

Paul Gough

Paper given at: The Body at War: Somatic Cartographies of Western Warfare in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, Group for War and Cultural Studies, 8th Annual Conference, University of Westminster, London (25th -26th June 2004)

The body heroic:
representations of event and historical exactitude in the work of the official regimental artist
At the intersection of figurative art, historical ‘fact’ and re-created narrative, there have thrived a consistent number of British painters who work in a closed relationship with the community of the armed services.

Largely ignored by (and largely rejecting) contemporary artistic practices, these artists work in a close-knit collaboration with those who commission their art work. The resulting paintings (and occasionally table sculptures) are of modest scale, highly realistic in their choice of pictorial language, heroic in their visual rhetoric, and intended for display in the confines of regimental mess or military museum. However, they have made a significant contribution to visual culture of warfare and the rendition of the male body is crucial in the articulation of the military in posters, propaganda and contemporary recruitment campaigns.

The paper will draw upon the work of both British and Canadian artists such as Cyril Barraud and Lawren Harris). By way of comparison, the paper will offer comparisons drawn from the British popular comic press – primarily Punch magazine, but also Bystander, and Wipers Times - which drew on both the heroic archetype and its antithesis, the dishevilled and cynical anti-hero of the ‘Cockney front-soldier’.

The paper will use visual material drawn from the illustrated press before and during the Great War, poster and popular art forms in the second world war, and the regimental and commemorative art that has been produced to record British involvement in global conflict in the past fifty years.

Through comparative analysis, the paper will foreground the work of a largely hidden sub-culture of artists for whom the upstanding, whole-limbed and active figure is represented as an immutable cipher who has to be represented simultaneously as the ‘everyman’ and as an ‘individual’.