Coquelicot Art of the First World War
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  56-Wadsworth

Edward Alexander Wadsworth, Dazzled-Ships in Drydock at Liverpool, 1919, oil on canvas, 304.8 x 243.8 cm, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa.

© SESAM, Paris, 1998.

© National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. Transfer from the Canadian War Memorials, 1921.

 
Total war
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56 - Edward Alexander Wadsworth

One of the founders of the Vorticist movement, Wadsworth (1889-1949) was involved in the first edition of the magazine Blast. He was, along with Wyndham Lewis, among those who used Cubo-Futurism as a basis for developing an art that was geometrical to the point of abstraction. He was drafted into the Navy, and served in the Mediterranean and on the island of Mudros. Then, on his return to Britain, he was appointed to supervise the camouflaging of ships in Bristol and Liverpool. He relied heavily on his artistic experience in order to vary the zigzag patterns aimed at misleading enemy lookouts. This painting - a commemorative commission from the Canadian authorities - shows four men at work on a hull. Above them rise up the monumental bows to match the format of the canvas. Dissymmetry triumphs with fragmented rectangles and trapeziums, broken diagonals and divided surfaces, and is so effective that the superstructures are hard to make out in the centre of the painting. The workers themselves are lost in a mechanical landscape where only reservoirs and chimneys are recognisable. Using the pattern used by Campbell Taylor to produce just one precise illustration, Wadsworth succeeds in a more effective pictorial demonstration, applying camouflage to the canvas itself and playing on figurative legibility.