Coquelicot Art of the First World War
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John Singer Sargent, A Street in Arras, 1918, watercolour, 39 x 52 cm, Imperial War Museum, London.

© Imperial War Museum.


81 - John Singer Sargent

During his stay in France in the summer of 1918, Sargent travelled all over the Picardy and Artois regions. In Arras, he painted the ruins of the cathedral and collapsed houses like this one. A shell has burst through the wall, revealing an old horse-drawn carriage. The floor has fallen on top of part of it with planks of wood left hanging in mid-air. With his skill and rapid execution, Sargent has captured the scene in watercolours without seeking additional detail for extra pathos. The Scottish soldiers resting nearby are perfectly indifferent to these ruins, having grown accustomed to seeing them.

81-Sargent" The village disappeared, never before had I seen a village just vanish like that (...) Here, among the massacred trees which in the fog surrounded us in a ghostly scene, everything was shapeless, there was not a piece of wall even, not a fence or gate still standing, and we were surprised to note that underneath the tangle of beams, stones and iron, there were paving stones - this had been a road!
It might have been a dirty, marshy wasteland not far from a town, which, regularly over a period of many years, without leaving an empty space, had dumped its rubble, its demolition material and old utensils: a uniform bed of rubbish and debris through which we plunged forward very slowly, with great difficulty. "

Henri Barbusse, Le Feu.