Coquelicot Art of the First World War
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William Orpen, Ready to Start, 1917, 60 x 50.8 cm, oil on canvas, Imperial War Museum, London.

© Imperial War Museum.

The fighting men

7 - William Orpen

Before the war, Orpen (1878-1931) was a fashionable portrait painter much appreciated in elegant London society. In 1916, he was assigned to the British Headquarters where he continued portrait painting and notably had Sir Douglas Haig sit for him at Montreuil. On June 10th 1917, the date of this painting, Orpen was in Cassel preparing to visit the front. Somewhat provocatively, he piles on the signs of extravagance, with the fur and the flat helmet and the bottles in a comfortable bedroom. Life could be pleasant at no great distance from the trenches, and a painter happy - an unacceptable paradox that Orpen with unconcealed delight goes out of his way to emphasise in this canvas done in a post-Impressionist style. (But which he was later to regret).