Coquelicot Art of the First World War
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C. R. W. Nevinson, Paths of Glory, 1917, oil on canvas, 45.7 x 61 cm, Imperial War Museum.

© Imperial War Museum.

The death

90 - C. R. W. Nevinson

Because Nevinson was so bold as to paint the bodies of two Tommies in front of the barbed wire, this painting was banned from an exhibition in 1918. Nevinson refused to take it down and covered it with brown paper on which he wrote "Censored". This gesture earned him a reprimand from the War Office, for it was forbidden either to show reality or to denounce censorship. Nevinson had only painted what every soldier had seen dozens of times: comrades who had fallen under fire during pointless assaults.
The reaction was all the more violent as the painting had nothing in common with Nevinson's Cubo-Futurist paintings of 1915 and 1916. Demonstrating a realism inspired by Courbet, devoid of all geometry, and more photographic than any other of his paintings, Paths of Glory is a work which leaves little room for aesthetic commentary inasmuch as the effect produced is essentially moral and political. In 1957, the American film director Stanley Kubrick used the title Paths of Glory for a film which violently denounced the absurdity of the Great War and introduced a theme absent from Nevinson's painting: mutiny and repression of mutiny, which is why for a long time his film was never screened in France...

90-Nevinson" Next to the black, waxen heads like Egyptian mummies, lumpy with insect larvae and debris, where white teeth appeared the hollows; next to poor darkened stumps which were numerous here, like a field of bare roots, we discovered yellow skulls, stripped clean, still wearing a red fez with a grey cover as brittle as papyrus. There were thighbones protruding from mounds of rags stuck together in the red mud, or a fragment of spine emerged from a hole filled with frayed material coated with a kind of tar. There were ribs scattered all over the ground like broken old cages, and nearby blackened pieces of leather, pierced and flattened beakers and mess tins had risen to the surface (...) Here and there, a longish bulge - for all these unburied dead finish up going into the ground - only a scrap of material sticks out, indicating that a human being was annihilated on this particular point of the globe. "

Henri Barbusse, Le Feu.