The involvement of artists in the Great War

The involvement of artists in the Great War

  • Patroller surprised by the spotlight.

    LEMORDANT Jean-Julien (1878 - 1968)

  • The Wounded Man.

    LEMORDANT Jean-Julien (1878 - 1968)

  • In the bombed-out city.

    LEMORDANT Jean-Julien (1878 - 1968)

To close

Title: Patroller surprised by the spotlight.

Author : LEMORDANT Jean-Julien (1878 - 1968)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 22.2 - Width 36

Technique and other indications: Pen, India ink, brown and black wash with red pencil lines on white paper

Storage location: Rennes Museum of Fine Arts website

Contact copyright: © Museum of Fine Arts of Rennes, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Adelaide Beaudoin

Patroller surprised by the spotlight.

© Museum of Fine Arts of Rennes, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Adelaide Beaudoin

To close

Title: The Wounded Man.

Author : LEMORDANT Jean-Julien (1878 - 1968)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 27.3 - Width 36

Technique and other indications: Pen, India ink and black wash on white paper Gift of the artist, 1957

Storage location: Rennes Museum of Fine Arts website

Contact copyright: © Museum of Fine Arts of Rennes, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Adelaide Beaudoin

© Museum of Fine Arts of Rennes, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Adelaide Beaudoin

To close

Title: In the bombed-out city.

Author : LEMORDANT Jean-Julien (1878 - 1968)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 27.3 - Width 36

Technique and other indications: Pen, black India ink and brown wash Gift from the artist, 1957

Storage location: Rennes Museum of Fine Arts website

Contact copyright: © Museum of Fine Arts of Rennes, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Adelaide Beaudoin

Publication date: March 2016

Historical context

Bretons in the war

In Britain, the human losses of the Great War seem to have been heavier than in the rest of the territory. This population, strongly rural, quite disciplined by nature, not very demanding, constituted an ideal "cannon fodder", renewed by a high birth rate.

The conflict of 1914 sounded the death knell for Lemordant of a promising career while marking the starting point of the myth of the blind artist, hero of the nation wounded in his flesh. This injury left him blind until he regained his sight in 1935, following an accident.

Image Analysis

Lemordant, the "Breton Goya"

In the appalling war revealed by Lemordant, two themes dominate. That of the wounded, crushed with pain, of the dying as in The Wounded Man and of the soldiers stupefied with fear, such as Patroller surprised by searchlight. On the other, that of the refugees, fleeing the fighting, frightened (In the bombed city). It is very difficult to date these drawings with precision.

Lemordant's blindness remains the great mystery of the artist's life. He would have built his personal legend around this injury, disputed by military doctors. It is not for us to settle this delicate debate. His war drawings were made at a time when the artist was officially a blind hero, a painter plunged into darkness by the horrors of war. Whether these drawings were captured on the spot by a soldier, himself an actor in the battle, or recreated long afterwards, in a synthetic vision, we will not know for sure. But the fact remains that these drawings are those of a man who personally felt the emotions and the sufferings he translates into a sober language of light and shadow.

A deep humanity permeates these drawings. Anecdotal details are erased in favor of a synthetic representation, which tells of suffering in black and white, by dint of scratches and shadow washes. Lemordant's vision is brutal. In his time, he was compared to Goya in his Disasters of war. Both have shown the war without that heroic mask with which it is often covered after the end of hostilities. A whole painful atmosphere emerges from scenes like those described In the bombed city and The wounded man, where, with a rapid black line, Lemordant knows how to give the faces of his characters the mask of suffering. Death, fear, noise, the smell of gunpowder, arise from these dark washes, as in the Patroller surprised by searchlight. Their powerful expressionism also brings Lemordant closer to the tormented art of German artists of the "Neue Sachlichkeit" ("New Objectivity"), among them Otto Dix who dedicated a series of drawings to hell lived in the trenches. Lemordant is today considered the greatest Breton painter of the early twentiethe century.

Interpretation

The involvement of artists in the conflict

Many Breton artists took part in the conflict, and some lost their lives there. Others were seriously injured, such as Lemordant. But their contribution to the history of the Great War is also artistic. Godet and Lemordant have written down their war years. Lemordant becomes a visionary and draws universal images from war. Like those of Otto Dix in Germany (The War of the Trenches), these drawings bear witness to a catastrophe experienced up close, adding an artistic dimension to the sinking of Europe in all that was essential and commemorating the inhuman suffering of men. In France in particular, artists played a decisive role in the constitution of the pacifist ideology of the interwar period. Through his works as much as through the symbolic significance of his blindness, the case of Lemordant is particularly significant in this regard.

  • army
  • War of 14-18
  • pacifism
  • trenches
  • engaged art

Bibliography

Pierre VALLAUD, 14-18, World War I, volumes I and II, Paris, Fayard, 2004.DAGEN Philippe The Silence of the Painters Paris, Fayard, 1996 Collective Jean-Julien Lemordant , exhibition cat.Musée des Beaux-Arts de Quimper, 24 April-30 October 1993.

To cite this article

Patrick DAUM, "The engagement of artists in the Great War"

Connections


Video: Capturing the Horrors - The Art of World War 1 I THE GREAT WAR Special