Coquelicot Art of the First World War
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Maurice Denis, Soirée calme en première ligne (Quiet Evening on the Front Line), 1917, oil on canvas, Musée d'Histoire Contemporaine - BDIC, Paris.

© SESAM, Paris, 1998.

The battlefield

31 - Maurice Denis

In 1917, Denis (1870-1943) was one of the painters asked by staff headquarters to go to the front and bring back paintings of the war. He went to the Aisne region and on his return produced this paradoxical painting, in which he avoids any tragic reference. Arranged in a frieze are liaison officers gently pushing their bicycles, a dog, a soldier carrying jerrycans, another chopping wood, and still another reading a letter. Denis favours the light tones of dusk, and we hardly notice the presence of smoke in the distance. It is no little understatement to say that his views and his aesthetics set him apart from Léger and Nevinson; it is hardly as if they are painting the same war and the same period at all.