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.
Above all, Bone’s work was authentic. It was he said, ‘War, as it is’. He showed the bare, sometimes mundane realities of the conflict – as in this drawing of a line of destroyers, looking rather harmless and workaday. His approach contrasted with the work of some war photographers of the day, who in their frustration to create a dramatic image, superimposed negatives to make composite prints – and were heavily criticised for having broken the ‘rules’ of reportage.
Nevertheless, Bone’s honesty did not impress everybody. One critic commented that his portrayals were simply too accurate, and dismissed his fine charcoal and ink drawings as being ‘too true to be good’.
- 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.