Periods

World War 1 – 5 Artists Who Became Soldiers

Magda Michalska 11 November 2016 min Read

Today we commemorate the anniversary of the end of the Great War. On this occasion we want to present you artists who experienced the trenches and hence pay our tribute to all souls who were lost in this terrible war.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Self-Portrait As A Soldier, 1915, Allen Memorial Art Museum (AMAM), Oberlin, Ohio, USA
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Self-Portrait As A Soldier, 1915, Allen Memorial Art Museum (AMAM), Oberlin College, Ohio, USA

Kirchner never fought as he was cheeky enough to sign up as a volunteer to serve as a driver in order to avoid being drafted into a more dangerous role. However, after his panic attacks and due to issues with his mental health, he was soon declared unfit for service and was sent away to recover. Self-Portrait was painted during that recovery. It shows him with an amputated arm and wearing a military uniform despite being in a studio. This way Kirschner tried to face his fear of impotency as an artist, a soldier and a man.

Egon Schiele

Egon Schiele, Russian Prisoner of War (Grigori Kladjishuli), 1916
Egon Schiele, Russian Prisoner of War (Grigori Kladjishuli), 1916, Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA

In 1915 Egon Schiele went to war. He survived the fights but lost the battle to influenza which took over Europe after the war and killed more people than the war itself. The 28-year-old Schiele along with his wife Edith were two of its ca. 40 million victims.

The Futurists

Umberto Boccioni, The Charge of Lancers, 1915, Collection of Dr. Riccardo Juncker, Milan
Umberto Boccioni, The Charge of Lancers, 1915, Collection of Dr. Riccardo Juncker, Milan

The Futurists declared war in The Futurist Manifesto as “the world’s only hygiene”. Because of such extreme views many of the Futurists enlisted in the army when Italy joined the war in 1915. Two of them lost their lives: Umberto Boccioni was wounded and died 1915, Antonio Sant’Elia died in the battle of Monfalcone at the age of 28 in 1916, whereas Filippo Tommaso Marinetti was severly marked by his experience of fights in the mountains of the Trentino region and he was heavily wounded in 1917.

Otto Dix

Otto Dix, Storm Troops Advance under Gas Attack, 1924
Otto Dix, Storm Troops Advance under Gas Attack, 1924, The British Museum

Dix’s series of war images is one of the most poignant depictions of the disasters of WW1. He executed his prints between 1923 and 1924 in a technique of etching and aquatint, in which acid etches a metal printing plate, in order to heighten the visual effect of decay and degradation of the post-battle landscapes. Dix experienced the horrors first hand: he had served as a machine gunner from 1914 to 1918 and saw combat on both the Eastern and Western fronts.

Henri Gaudier-Brzeska

Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Mermaid, 1913, Tate
Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Mermaid, 1913, Tate

This French sculptor and painter lived and worked in Britain, where he shared the radical modernist views of his friends Vorticists: Ezra Pound and Jacob Epstein. When the war began he joined the French army and was so brave in combat that he received a decoration for bravery before being killed in the trenches at Neuville-St.-Vaast at the age of 23. His lover Sophie Brzeska became distraught after his death and died in an asylum in 1925.