Behind the Twisted Wire: New Zealand Artists in World War 1
How did New Zealand artists, both those who were specially commissioned and those who volunteered as soldiers, record their experiences in this war?
Two of the artists – Nugent Welch and George Butler – who were official war artists have left us an incredible legacy of paintings, now part of the National War Art Collection. Nugent Welch enlisted as a soldier and served for nearly two years before he was made a war artist. He was already a well-known landscape artist in Wellington and he used these skills at the Front to create some great studies of the effect of war on men and on the land.
George Butler, who had spent several years in New Zealand, was specially commissioned by the army to paint the actions of New Zealand troops in the last two months of the war. He also created some large scale studies of actions which were designed for a museum on World War I which was to be set up in Wellington. It was, however, never completed due to post-war economic problems.
The third war artist was the pushy Alfred Pearse. Although his paintings are documented, there is no record of them surviving, probably because they showed too realistically the horrors of the Western Front.
The book also includes the story of Horace Moore-Jones. A well-known artist, he enrolled as a soldier and served on Gallipoli. He was soon recognised as an artist and asked to paint the landscape as maps were short. He is famous for his painting of Simpson and his donkey for which the model was a New Zealander, Dick Henderson, although Moore-Jones believed that he was painting an Australian, John Kirkpatrick Simpson. He completed this after his return to New Zealand when he was on a lecture tour for the RSA with his Gallipoli paintings.
Because New Zealand was slow to appoint official war artists – unlike their attitude in World War II – the book will include the work of soldier artists such as Arthur Lloyd, G.E. Woolley, C. Trevithick, John Weeks, Archibald Nicoll, Francis McCrackan, Robert Johnson and W.H. Gummer. Also included is Walter Bowring who painted the Home Front.
Through the work of these artists it is possible to tell the story of the effect of the war on the New Zealanders who served on the various fronts: the Western Front, Gallipoli and the Middle East (Gummer).
This book includes the portraits painted of the New Zealand V.C. winners. These were commissioned after the war from artists such as Archibald Nicoll, who also painted pictures drawn from his war-time experiences. The final chapter is on the commemorative art which followed World War I. Supporting the text are reproductions of paintings by these various artists, many of which have not previously been seen by the New Zealand public.
The book will be a companion to my very successful The Art of War: New Zealand war artists in the field 1939–1945, which has sold nearly 3,000 copies.
This book will make you laugh and cry. It is funny, provocative and poignant, and shows that living in a disaster zone brings communities together, that people do indeed step up and look after one another. This is a story about the resilience of a community suddenly struggling with the simplest of daily chores in a time of crisis.
New Zealand artists in World War 1
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