Coquelicot Art of the First World War
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  20-de Groux

Henri de Groux, Masques à gaz (Gas Masks), etching, Royal Army and Military History Museum, Brussels.

© SESAM, Paris, 1998.

The battlefield

20 - Henri de Groux

The work of Henri de Groux (1867-1930) is one of uncompromising realism, and draws its themes from the lives of humble citizens which he raises to the status of a humanist symbolism. In this etching, description is secondary to the metamorphosis of man into a grotesque and dangerous animal. It seems to have been designed especially to illustrate the passage where another painter, Jacques-Emile Blanche, recounts what he saw at the cinema one day in March 1916: "Today", he wrote in his diary, "we went down into these troglodyte dwellings where warring monks, officers aged between 50 and 60, good men who have bidden farewell to worldly things, did their 'dirty work' with the ingenuous, childish and methodical spirit of Benedictine monks (...) We saw the monstrous, grotesque masks of the gas masks, those fearsome goggled snouts which men with such paternal, such gentle faces, so ill-fitted for war, adjust with all the care demanded by the insidious poison (...)."