Our latest World War One exhibition on Capital Collections is a selection of images by Britain’s first official war artist, Muirhead Bone.
Sir W. Muirhead Bone, a Glasgow-born printmaker and draughtsman, was sent to document the Western Front in France from 1916, at the height of the Somme Offensive, until 1917 as part of a government scheme. The images were first published in Country Life, a British weekly magazine.
While the Foreign Office and Charles Masterman had established a secret agency to disseminate British propaganda, called Wellington House, which became known at the War Propaganda Bureau (WPB), in 1914; the idea of a ‘war artist’ developed in April 1916 when a pictorial section of the publication, The War Pictorial, was established. In May 1916, William Rothenstein, a British painter, suggested to Masterman that Bone be recruited to act as the first official war artist and was commissioned as an honorary second lieutenant. Originally, Bone’s appointment was only to provide pictorial propaganda for a few publications; however, he continued his work for the WPB after returning to England in December 1916 by drawing shipyards and battleships then revisited France in 1917 to draw ruined towns and villages.
Since these images were commissioned as pictorial propaganda by the WPB, Bone was constrained in what he drew because of the strict control over the subject matter. Apparent in these drawings is Bone’s focus on the military life behind the lines – the everyday duties of the soldiers and medical core; landscapes; military industrial yards; and ruined towns – the desolation of the aftermath of battles rather than gruesome realities of the dead and dying.
Bone’s skill as a draughtsman allowed him to quickly capture, in great detail, the sheer scale of the war, the devastation of France and Belgium and the tedium of the daily life of a soldier waiting for battle.
View the full exhibition on Capital Collections.