Coquelicot Art of the First World War
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  The battlefield

This is the subject par excellence. Ever since the Renaissance, battle painting had developed in line with new equipment and tactics as they appeared, one by one. The charges of the Ucello cavalry were followed by country skirmishes, sieges and didactic panoramas. Following the campaigns of the First and Second Empires, the Franco-Prussian War spawned a vast number of paintings which resorted to the realist approach and applied in increasingly large formats. Narratives of patriotic tales did not completely disappear however, but were reserved for art lovers and regional museums.
After 1870, painting remained the preferred medium for representing a battle. Photography was not a viable rival in view of the heavy equipment involved and the long exposure time which did not allow the operator to take snapshots. The photographer could only intervene after the event, taking shots of the ruins of a bombed redoubt at Sebastopol or of a Commune barricade. By 1914, the situation had changed owing to improvements in photographic technology and its ready availability. Already in the introduction, we stated that each soldier was a potential photographer, whose best snapshots were published in the dailies, which organised lucrative contests in order to stimulate competition among these makeshift reporters. 

Le Miroir May 2nd 1915

On May 2nd 1915, Le Miroir published the first snapshot of a battle: the exploding of a shell while infantry dragoons carried out an assault in a landscape of meadows and woods. The poor quality of the picture is given by the newspaper as ultimate proof of its authenticity. The "as if you were there" photographic style came into fashion, heralding a long run of photographs, years before the famous shot taken by Robert Capa during the Spanish Civil War, in which we see a republican soldier at the very moment of being brought down by a bullet as he runs. This did not, however, prevent painters from producing some war paintings in very different styles. 

The Assault

The diversity of artistic form was equal to the difficulties to be overcome, which is why artists from very different backgrounds and with very different styles moved in all kinds of directions. 

Mechanical Warfare

This was clearly the revolution that modified fighting conditions, determined tactics, forced charges to be abandoned and positions to be dug in - from now on, the fate of the war depended on the quality of the engineers' inventions and the quantity of machinery produced by industry. The warring countries produced more and more technical improvements and experimented with continually enhanced equipment which accelerated the rate of fire, the force of projectiles and the violence of destruction. In addition to the machine-gun, the Great War saw the advent of two other new weapons: assault tanks and poisonous gas. 

The War Underground

The war of dugout positions spread to all parts once the western front was stabilised from the North Sea to southern Alsace. From then on, until the return of campaigns of breakout and movement in 1918, first the Germans and then the Allies began excavation work, which became one of the major activities of the warring nations, to dig shelters and destroy the enemy lines with sapping trenches and mines. 

Invisible Warfare

Another effect of this new form of battle was the increasing importance of concealing artillery, trenches and communication networks from the enemy. The enemy observed from the top of his trench parapets or used barrage balloons and aerial spotters to guide his artillery and monitor enemy movements. Camouflage became of vital importance. Previously, uniforms had been brightly coloured; from now on, everything had to be indistinguishable to the eye. 

The Trenches

The trenches were used for living in, for defence, as the starting line for assaults, as a shelter and as the target for bombardment. The soldiers lived there, waited there and almost every day some died there. There are few works depicting the trenches with nothing happening, although they were the subject of numerous photographic reports by the soldiers who wanted to show their families pictures of their day-to-day existence.

The age of artillery . . .

      The Assault
11 - Alfred Basel
12 - Oskar Laske
13 - Eric Kennington
14 - John Nash
15 - Umberto Boccioni 

    Mechanical Warfare
16 - Gino Severini
17 - C.R.W. Nevinson
18 - Henri Gaudier-Brzeska
19 - William Roberts
20 - Henri de Groux
21 - Otto Dix
22 - Frank Brangwyn 

    The War Underground
23 - Fernand Léger
24 - David Bomberg
25 - Félix Vallotton 

    Invisible Warfare
26 - André Mare
27 - André Mare und
      Leon Underwood 

    The Trenches
28 - Guillaume Apollinaire
29 - Fernand Léger
30 - C.R.W. Nevinson
31 - Maurice Denis
32 - Edouard Vuillard
33 - C.R.W. Nevinson