Coquelicot Art of the First World War
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Félix Vallotton, Verdun, tableau de guerre interprété, projections colorées noires, bleues et rouges, terrains dévastés, nuées de gaz (Verdun Interpreted War Painting, Coloured Black, Red and Blue Projections, Destroyed Lands, Clouds of Gas), 1917, oil on canvas, 114 x 146 cm, Musée de l'Armée, Paris.

© Photo Musée de l'Armée, Paris.

The age of artillery

46 - Félix Vallotton

Vallotton came home from his assignments in Argonne and Verdun in the certainty that, whilst it remained possible for the artist to paint the ruins and landscapes of the front, the battle itself posed problems to which he perhaps had no answer. Although a member of the Nabi group, he looked to the Cubo-Futurist movement for the resources to paint this unique picture in his work. On the subject of Verdun, he stated: "What can I depict out of all that? (...) Perhaps the theories of Cubism still in its infancy could be applied and give results? Drawing or painting 'forces' would be much more profoundly true than reproducing material effects, but such 'forces' are devoid of shape, still less colour." Following the principles of Cubo-Futurism, to which Vallotton here briefly subscribes, he uses coloured triangles and cones for trajectories, and oblique lines for rain and dense smoke. He keeps elements of a landscape, perspective, trees on slopes, but the centre of the painting is filled with a symbolic composition - the geometry of the antagonistic "forces".