Coquelicot Art of the First World War
  Guided tour List of painters Partners Foreword


"He was stretched out, with his face in a pool of blood. When I turned him over, I could see a large hole in his forehead, there was nothing more to be done. I had just exchanged a few words with him and suddenly I realised that he was no longer answering my questions. When I turned the corner a few seconds later, he was already dead. There was something fantastic about this end." This is how Jünger recounts the death of someone he had seen fall close to him. There exists no account of the Great War which is not full of similar stories. Death was a daily occurrence and there were bodies everywhere. In the places where the fighting was the most violent and the longest, the corpses piled up. Those who dug shelters uncovered human remains. Others made parapets out of them. The living ate and slept surrounded by bodies. Near Verdun, Léger tried to find a dugout. "My main concern", he wrote, "was to avoid having a corpse close by me. I made the mistake of digging the hole to rest my head a little too deep. I uncovered two feet with shoes on, it was the body of a Frenchman (the Hun only wore boots). I dug a little further along to try and find a better spot. There was nothing doing. There were human remains everywhere." 

Le Miroir October 8th 1916

The newspapers hid nothing from their readers. As of autumn 1914, the first photographs of bodies were published, being careful however to choose enemy ones. Gradually however, such compunction disappeared, and on October 8th 1916 Le Miroir published a front page picture of the entangled bodies of a German and a French infantryman in a shell-hole. Meanwhile, the escalation of macabre and cruel horrors continued, with photographs of pieces of skeleton, charred bodies and communal graves becoming commonplace in the wartime press and in the cinema, who followed this trend. Jacques-Emile Blanche attended a cinema screening of a number of films devoted to the destruction of a Zeppelin over France: "Here was another film showing the bodies of the crew. People's nerves had to be blunted for the general public to look quite happily at the white back, the back of the blond, chubby German whose head was a block of coal to the slow waltz rhythm chosen by the conductor of the orchestra. The other bodies were carbonised, their arms and legs turned into charcoal."
It is therefore no surprise if the drawings, engravings and paintings are full of death and that it should be the one subject that returns obsessively in the works of Dix, and that emerges through so many others. 


Any attempt at an exhaustive inventory of this theme would be of little use, because it would be so repetitive. It would perhaps be more instructive to analyse the differences in stylistic treatment, in a never-ending fluctuation between the realistic representation and the renewal of the allegory. 


This was one final way of painting the war, final in many ways: because it occurred after the event, because the painters were judging rather than describing and seeking to get right down to the meaning. This style symbolises, synthesises and commemorates. It also describes, imposing a view of the consequences of the fighting which, with its cruel reminders, will not let us forget.

Guided tour . . .

  82 - Otto Dix

83 - Max Beckmann
84 - William Orpen
85 - George Grosz
86 - Félix Vallotton
87 - Fernand Léger
88 - André Mare
89 - Luc-Albert Moreau
90 - C. R. W. Nevinson
91 - Otto Dix
92 - Otto Dix
93 - Frans Masereel
94 - William Orpen 

95 - Félix Vallotton
96 - John Lavery
97 - William Orpen
98 - Otto Dix
99 - Otto Dix
100 - Otto Dix
101 - Albin Egger-Linz
102 - Marcel Gromaire
103 - Max Beckmann
104 - Sir Stanley Spencer
105 - Otto Dix