Coquelicot Art of the First World War
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C. R. W. Nevinson, A Bursting Shell, 1915, oil on canvas, 76.2 x 55.9 cm, Tate Gallery, London.

© Tate Gallery, London 1998. 


Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Un de nos obus explose (One of Our Shells Exploding), 1915, pencil on paper, 22 x 28.5 cm, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris.

© Collections Mnam/Cci/Centre Georges Pompidou. Photo : Photothèque des collections du Mnam/Cci.

The age of artillery

43 - C. R. W. Nevinson and Henri Gaudier-Brzeska

Both influenced by Vorticism, Nevinson's painting and Gaudier-Brzeska's contemporary drawing try a different tack from description and narration, preferring a syncopated geometrical transcription of an explosion. They combine two kinds of geometry: one of angles and triangles, suggestive of flying shrapnel; the other of curves and spirals, evoking the flames and curls of smoke. Nevinson adds colour, a chromatic analysis of the flash of an explosion in a restricted space - ruins, a dugout or a well, we cannot tell which. The drawing is one of a small set of sketches drawn by Gaudier-Brzeska during the final months of his life, on the front line in Artois. The painting was exhibited in London at the end of 1915 when it drew much comment. One columnist saw in it "pure and simple Futurism with no hint of Realism", admiring however the "extraordinary feeling of the irresistible force of destruction". Despite this reception, the picture remains an isolated case as in Nevinson's work.