Coquelicot Art of the First World War
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Gino Severini, Plastic Synthesis of the Idea of War, 1915, oil on canvas, 60 x 50 cm, Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, Munich.

© SESAM, Paris, 1998.

The battlefield

16 - Gino Severini

Severini (1883-1966) did not take part in the fighting but, in 1914 and 1915, he attempted to paint it from the experiences of the French Cubists and the Italian Futurists, of which he was a leading exponent. To description, he preferred the composition of large symbolic ensembles using the juxtaposition of details and words according to the logic of Cubist collage established as of 1912 by Picasso and Braque. Thus the war is defined by adding together the general mobilisation order, a ship's anchor, an artillery gun carriage, range-finding instruments, an aircraft wing bearing the red, white and blue roundel, a factory chimney and the date of the declaration of war. Significantly, Severini does not introduce, or even allude to, any human presence, preferring to use the working drawings of engineers as the building blocks of his pictorial language. The association between industrial modernity and artistic modernity is obvious. Severini called his aesthetics "ideist realism".