Coquelicot Art of the First World War
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Poundings of shells, mines, useless assaults, submarines and aerial combat, all this can be summed up in a single notion: the suffering inflicted on soldiers and civilians, deprivation for the latter; and fear, injury and death for the former. Because it was the most violent war that had occurred up to then and because of the massive, blind destruction, the Great War saw the growth of an iconography of the shared suffering of every nation. The suffering affected people everywhere, and the war took on a new and particularly frightening face. 

After the Fighting

When the war "showed its claws", it left countless victims in its wake - those who fell, those who were wounded and those taken prisoner. Artists only gave slight attention to the plight of the prisoners. Although photographs of rows of them were published in the press along with a few drawings, mainly for propaganda purposes, representations of the defeated "others" remained an exception. 

Field Hospitals

"The field ambulance was over on the other side of the square. It was a large, deserted, black house with no furniture and no pallets. In his shirt sleeves, his forehead glistening with sweat, the major quickly examined the wounded whose injuries were lit by a lantern held by a nurse. Soiled dressings and cotton wool were strewn on the floor. A large basin was overflowing with reddened water.
- Another, said the major, wiping his head with his bare arm." The scene is described by Roland Dorgelès in Les croix de bois (The Wooden Crosses). With a few slight differences, this scene features in all the stories of the war whether written from the medic's point of view or, more usually, the wounded soldier's. In French and German dressing stations alike, the sight was the same - incurable wounds, a shortage of doctors and nurses, hasty treatment, cries of pain and death rattles. This is how Jünger recalls his first wound: "An exhausted major was standing in the midst of a jumble of groaning bodies, dressing wounds, giving injections and making recommendations in a calm voice. I dragged a dead man's greatcoat over onto me and fell into a sleep which an oncoming fever filled with strange dreams. In the middle of the night, I woke up and saw the doctor who was still working by the light of a lantern. 


The human suffering was accompanied by material destruction, with towns and villages bombed, factories and mines ravaged. Ypres, Rheims, Verdun - just a few of the names constantly cropping up in the despatches, towns that stood in ruins in 1918. In the countryside where the fighting had taken place, the effects were similar on all fronts; in Belgium, France, central Europe and the Balkans the war left behind entire regions laid to waste, civilian populations forced to flee, their resources wiped out. This is recorded in the photographs and it is quite common to see, in the background, rubble, pieces of wall, blackened foundations - all that remained of a farm or village.
On the other hand, it is much more unusual for a painter to choose these ruins as the central subject of his work, as if by common agreement no material damage could ever compare with the loss of human life, for such a loss was irreparable.

Death . . .

  66 - Otto Dix

    After the Fighting
67 - Egon Schiele
68 - Pablo Picasso
69 - Marc Chagall
70 - Eric Heckel
71 - C. R. W. Nevinson
72 - John Singer Sargent 

    Field Hospitals
73 - Max Beckmann
74 - Ossip Zadkine
75 - Eric Kennington
76 - Gino Severini
77 - Sir Stanley Spencer 

78 - C. R. W. Nevinson
79 - Pierre Bonnard
80 - Félix Vallotton
81 - John Singer Sargent