Coquelicot Art of the First World War
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William Orpen, Thiepval, 1917, oil on canvas, 63.5 x 76.2 cm, Imperial War Museum, London.

© Imperial War Museum.

The death

94 - William Orpen

During the summer of 1916, a fierce battle took place between the Germans and the British at Thiepval in the Somme and the surrounding region. A few months later, Orpen returned to the scene of the battle to find the stones littered with skulls, bones and fragments of clothing. Typically, Orpen refused to choose, his eye and his painting enumerate the human remains and broken objects without distinction. The weather is fine, and tufts of grass and poppies, are growing in the chalk ground around the scattered, soon to be forgotten skeletons.

94-Orpen" It was a disgusting heap, a monstrous exhuming of wax-like Bavarians on top of others who had already turned black, and whose twisted mouths exhaled a rotten stench; a pile of maimed flesh, with corpses which looked as if they had been unscrewed: feet and knees were completely wrenched the wrong way round, and as if watching over them all, there was one corpse standing upright, leaning against the side, propped up by a headless monster. "

Roland Dorgelès, Les croix de bois (The Wooden Crosses).