Coquelicot Art of the First World War
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Sir Stanley Spencer, Travoys Arriving with Wounded at a Dressing Station at Smol, Macedonia, September 1916, 1919, oil on canvas, 183 x 218.5 cm, Imperial War Museum, London.

© Imperial War Museum.


77 - Sir Stanley Spencer

Spencer (1891-1959) was a young artist who was mainly known for his gift for drawing when he enlisted with the British medical corps in 1915. He spent two and a half years in Macedonia despite his attempts at getting sent back to the west as an army painter. He only returned after contracting malaria in 1918. Shortly afterwards, he painted this remarkable work, from memory for he had lost his sketchpad; it is a view from above of sleds (or travoys) holding wounded soldiers from 22nd Division who had been fighting troops from Bulgaria. They symbolically converge from every angle on the brightly lit operating theatre. There is a sharp contrast between the rudimentary sleds pulled by mules and the operating theatre where a wounded man is being anaesthetised with ether. The intensity of the picture is heightened by the details of the hands, the rumpled blankets and the animals apparently as exhausted as the men. Spencer turned down all subsequent requests to produce any further painting of his stay in the Balkans.