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.
Nicknamed the ‘London Piranesi’ for his ability to depict construction sites, shipyards, cathedrals and docksides, Bone was not daunted by engineering detail. That is clear in this drawing of a huge gun, which shows the scale and complexity of modern warfare without being distracted by extraneous clutter.
Bone’s work was widely featured in government publications and his graphic style reproduced well on the war-rationed newsprint of the day. His drawings were highly regarded as pictorial propaganda and exhibited in Britain and the USA, where tens of thousands of people flocked to see them. His popularity convinced the government to commission a second wave of war artists – young men often with front-line experience, such as Paul Nash (1889–1946), Percy Wyndham Lewis (1882–1957) and Stanley Spencer (1891–1959).