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Artistic Expressions and the Great War, A Hundred Years On


Edited By Sally Debra Charnow

The Great War set in motion all of the subsequent violence of the twentieth century. The war took millions of lives, led to the fall of four empires, established new nations, and negatively affected others. During and after the war, individuals and communities struggled to find expression for their wartime encounters and communal as well as individual mourning. Throughout this time of enormous upheaval, many artists redefined their role in society, among them writers, performers, painters, and composers. Some sought to renew or re-establish their place in the postwar climate, while others longed for an irretrievable past, and still others tried to break with the past entirely.

This volume offers a significant interdisciplinary contribution to the study of modern war, exploring the ways that artists contributed to wartime culture – both representing and shaping it – as well as the ways in which wartime culture influenced artistic expressions. Artists’ places within and against reconstruction efforts illuminate the struggles of the day. The essays included represent a transnational perspective and seek to examine how artists dealt with the experience of conflict and mourning and their role in (re-)establishing creative practices in the changing climate of the interwar years.

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Part I The Front: Masculinity and Heroic Imagination


PART IThe Front: Masculinity and Heroic Imagination

The four chapters in this part vary dramatically in content from history painting and cartoons, to romantic nationalist theatre and avant-garde painters, but they share two key themes. The first, focuses on the myth of the Great War, which is the belief that there was a universal, unified reaction to it as both ‘shocking’ and ‘a folly’. Libby Murphy’s Illustrators, Icons, and the Infantryman Re-imagined: Cartoon Soldiers of the Great War, explores how wartime cartoons gave soldiers and civilians a recognizable and reassuring way to imagine the common soldier in an age of industrialized warfare. Cartoon artists, both French and British, including those who had suffered injuries, often played up psychological health and shied away from depicting physical suffering. Instead they focused on the heroic endurance of soldiers defending their country rather than the carnage of the trenches. Underscoring nationalist and patriotic anti-German rhetoric, their work did not correspond to postwar attitudes that embraced (anti-) war art. In a similar vein, Breanne Robertson shows how the prevalence of bayonet stabbings in American paintings, engravings, and other visual renderings of the Great War were meant to conjure up individual soldiers’ chivalry, bravery, and honour and obscure the industrialization of modern warfare. In Romancing the Bayonet: Blood, Glory, and the Battlefield Sublime in American Depictions of the Great War Robertson argues that traditional historical painting representing hand-to-hand combat was an essential cultural form to humanize modern war. While the bayonet figured prominently in...

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