Coquelicot Art of the First World War
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Fernand Léger, Sapeurs (Sappers), 1916, pencil on letter card, 17 x 12,7 cm, location unknown.

The battlefield

23 - Fernand Léger

In Argonne and Verdun, Léger (1881-1955) made several drawings of the men who dug the galleries, shelters and tunnels at the end of which the explosive mine charges were placed. In his eyes, they were the epitome of men turned by technology into auxiliaries of the machine and the new rational tactics. They are no longer distinguishable from their machines and the wood with which they reinforce the walls of the trenches. They are faceless, expressionless creatures whose bodies merely accomplish tasks that minds other than their own have decided upon.


Coquelicot" There were coal seams everywhere under our positions and the French took advantage of this. Not a single day went by without a section of trench blowing up followed by an attack on the still-smoking crater, while we still had mud up to our necks. The first one to the bottom won (...) We stayed night and day at our posts listening intently in the galleries with our explosives within arm's reach. We often heard the enemy's pick-axes right close to us, and then, within a split second, the race was on to see who would be blown to pieces, them or us. How many times have I stood crouching in a hole with an earpiece listening out for the moment when they would stop digging and start dragging over their cases of dynamite. "

Ernst Jünger, Lieutenant Sturm, Paris, Viviane Hamy, 1991.