Coquelicot Art of the First World War
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John Singer Sargent, Gassed, 1918-19, oil on canvas, 2310 x 6111 cm, Imperial War Museum, London.

© Imperial War Museum.


72 - John Singer Sargent

Despite his age and the fact that he was better known for the quality of his portraits and his paintings of high society, his reputation led to Sargent (1856-1925) being commissioned to do this commemorative painting. In 1918, he went to northern France and during one of his journeys from Arras to Doullens, he saw groups of soldiers blinded by projections of mustard gas. He used this as a subject for a naturalist allegorical frieze depicting a line of young men with their eyes bandaged, several of them apparently in agony, as they move forward among the bodies of other soldiers lying on the ground. The vast horizontal format of this painting gives effectiveness to this composition; Sargent had drawn studies on this theme before bringing them together to obtain this procession of painful shadows.