Coquelicot Art of the First World War
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William Roberts, A Shell Dump, France, 1918-19, oil on canvas, 182.8 x 317.8 cm, Imperial War Museum, London.

© Imperial War Museum.

Total war

65 - William Roberts

This was where the shipments from the factories to the rear arrived, in storage areas near the front. Robert's painting of it bears little resemblance to those of Vuillard, Ginner and Clausen. Like most of his paintings of the war, it is rather hard and incisive, peopled with vehement figures and dominated by the copper colour of the cartridges and the ochre of the uniforms. The gunners blend in with the munitions they are stacking or moving around and the theme of the man-machine reappears, reinforced by the disorder of the composition. Roberts rejects any theatricality or symmetry. His work seems as if it has been cut out of a crowd scene that continues beyond the edges of the painting - which contributes a great deal to the forcefulness of the picture.