One of the most acclaimed war artists of World War One, Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson’s dramatic paintings captured the dehumanising horror of this brutal conflict.
In the Trenches, 1917 by C R W Nevinson
Picturing the First World War
The work of C. R. W. Nevinson (1889 – 1946) has provided some of the most iconic images of the First World War. From mechanical soldiers to unsettling industrial landscapes, he captured a world torn apart by war and on the brink of irreversible change.
Did you know that Nevinson was famously advised by the legendary Slade School of Art tutor, Henry Tonks (1862-1937,) to abandon all thoughts of an artistic career?
Despite this inauspicious beginning, Nevinson created some of the most eloquent depictions of the Great War. Initially he joined the Friends’ Ambulance Unit as an ambulance driver and it was the distressing experience of looking after wounded French soldiers that would inspire his powerful early work.
Following discharge from service on the grounds of ill health, Nevinson was eventually commissioned as an official war artist.
French troops resting, 1916 by C R W Nevinson; After the Recapture of Bapaume, 1918 by C R W Nevinson
Futurism and Vorticism
Nevinson was closely associated with the Italian Futurists and the Vorticist movement and he drew upon this new artistic language believing that “our Futurist technique is the only possible medium to express the crudeness, violence and brutality of the emotions seen and felt on the present battlefields of Europe”.
The world had never before witnessed slaughter on the scale seen on the battlefields of France and the mechanical attrition that saw so many young men march to their death is keenly felt in Nevinson’s 1914 work ‘On the way to the Trenches‘.
On the Way to the Trenches, illustration from ‘Blast’ magazine, June 1914 (litho) by Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson (1889-1946); Private Collection; La Mitrailleuse (detail) by C R W Nevinson
The Horrors of Modernity
Machinery recur through Nevinson’s paintings, symbolic of the new technologies that characterised World War I, and Nevinson was unique in his ability to capture the horrors of this Modernity.
The de-humanised machine gunners in his 1915 work ‘La Mitrailleuse‘ (above) were described by the artist Walter Sickert (1860-1942) as ‘the most authoritative and concentrated utterance on the war in the history of painting’.
A century later, age has not wearied the power of these images and Nevinson leaves us in no danger of forgetting the brutality of this most tragic of wars.
(518) Paths of Glory, 1917 by C R W Nevinson; Ypres after First Bombardment by C R W Nevinson