Artists of the First World War

The First World War and its aftermath was a watershed in the history of twentieth century art. Many artists who were at the forefront of the modernist Avant-Garde were called to the colours of their respective nations. As soldiers or as official war artists they produced an extraordinary range of striking images that convey the immediacy and horror of their experiences and feelings.

The concepts of modernism developed and changed during and after the Great War and the artistic movements of Cubism, Fauvism, Expressionism, Futurism and Vorticism were all reshaped and reformed. For example, in France where Cubism had begun its development, the movement was deemed ironically during the war by previously favourable critics as barbaric, German, and therefore unpatriotic. In Britain, however, the interest and acclaim shown during the exhibitions of war artists’ work boosted the acceptability of modernist art movements in the public arena.

Many artists were tragically killed and others physically or mentally maimed. Some artists such as Nevinson and Wyndam Lewis produced arguably their best work during their service careers. Others in the post-war period such as the German expressionist artists Dix, Beckman and Grosz recalled their own personal hell of the conflict and created arguably some of the strongest twentieth century anti-war images. The post-war years also witnessed the redemptive work of Stanley Spencer who, after the Armistice, produced monumental affirmations of hope and optimism for the brotherhood of human kind.

A number of ‘avant-garde’ artists are considered as to how their individual experiences of the Great War were reflected in their works. There will be a bias towards British artists in that many paintings can be seen at the Imperial War Museum in London and other British regional galleries. As well as the British, the French, German and Italian artists’ works will be discussed and comparisons made to see in what ways there were national and stylistic differences.

Martin Heard
Independent Art Historian
Accredited NADFAS lecturer
Tel: 01322 381565