Coquelicot Art of the First World War
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Jacques Villon, L'entonnoir en Champagne (A Crater in the Champagne Region), ink on paper, Musée d'Histoire Contemporaine - BDIC, Paris.

© SESAM, Paris, 1998.

The age of artillery

50 - Jacques Villon

Craters blown open by mines or by large-calibre shells were a characteristic feature of any battlefield. In them, soldiers were crushed to death by shells or sought shelter once the artillery had changed targets. On the edge of this one drawn by Villon (1885-1953), there are little dugouts in which the soldiers waited and rested. Such views abound in the photographs of the period, which deliberately linger over the human and material debris strewn around the crater. For Villon, it is sufficient to depict the depth of the cavity and its steeply sloping walls by means of oblique lines, in the manner of a draughtsman. His aim is rather documentary than artistic, he establishes facts with a careful survey of the artificial contours caused by the explosion and leaves the spectator to imagine the power needed to open up the earth in such a way.

50-Villon"A great movement of earth and sky through our burning eyelids, wet and cold; things you find in the pale dawn, one after another and all of them; nobody killed in the darkness, nobody even buried despite the relentless shell attack, the same earth and the same corpses, all this flesh that trembles as if from internal spasms, which dances, deep and hot, and hurts; no more pictures even, just this burning fatigue frozen skin-deep by the rain; another day dawning over the ridge while the Boche's batteries carry on firing on it and on what remains of us up there, mixed with the mud, the bodies, with the once fertile field, now polluted with poison, dead flesh, incurably affected by our hellish torture. "

Maurice Genevoix, Ceux de 14 (The Men of 1914), Paris, Flammarion, 1950.