Artists were employed by all sides in World War One to produce images and text for propaganda use. Literary figures at the meetings of Britain’s War Propaganda Bureau, created in 1914, included Rudyard Kipling (1865–1936), GM Trevelyan (1876–1962) and HG Wells (1866–1946).
Britain’s first official War Artist, however, was not appointed by the Bureau until May 1916: the Scottish etcher and watercolourist Sir Muirhead Bone (1876–1953). He was sent to France until October, producing 150 highly finished drawings of the war in six weeks. In 1917 he returned to France, concentrating on towns and villages ruined in bombing raids.
One of the worst affected places was Ypres, which because of its strategic position was the centre of intense and sustained battles through the war. The largest of these was the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917, which resulted in half a million casualties across all sides. The town was almost obliterated, as Bone’s sketch here starkly shows.
Demonstrating his experience as a renowned etcher of industrial and architectural scenes, Bone evokes the ruined features of the Cloth Hall and the annihilation of the main square with a few deft strokes. The Hall was rebuilt after the war in an exact copy of the 13th-century original.
- Article by:
- Paul Gough
- Representation and memory
Professor Paul Gough introduces British and Belgian artists of World War One, from Henry de Groux and his eyewitness responses to the Belgian invasion, to the later generation of British artists who transformed their frontline experiences into abstract, modernist artworks.