The Influence of World War I

War always influences artists.  From music to painting to literature and everything in between it seems that it is almost impossible for the artist to avoid being touched in some way by it.  In this post three paintings by three different artist will be shown in order to show how World War I influenced art in different ways.

First is a painting from a German painter named Conrad Felixmuller. 

Conrad Felixmuller, Soldat im Irrenhaus (Soldier in the Madhouse) 1918

Soldat im Irrenhaus (Soldier in the Madhouse) 1918, Germany

This expressionist painting, shows the dark side of war.  It depicts a man driven mad by the atrocities of war stuck in an asylum.  Notice his hands on the bars showing how badly he wants out of the room that he is in while his jailer watches on.  The red represents the blood of war and also the anger the man feels at being locked in the asylum.  I like this painting because even though it is fairly straight forward there is still some mystery to it.  What is the piece of paper in the man’s hand?  Is he looking back to the guard with sadness in his face because he has been caught with something that he shouldn’t have or is the sadness because he is in the asylum?  The guard’s red face would seem to indicate that he is angry about something.

Next is a painting by a British painter named Flora Lion.

Flora Lion, Women's Canteen at Phoenix Works, 1918

Women’s Canteen at Phoenix Works, 1918, England

The painting here by Flora Lion was commissioned by the Ministry of Information, a department of the British government that was concerned with propaganda during and immediately after the war, to show the British people that everybody helped win the war.  Even those people that weren’t soldiers on the front line.  Note the two women arm in arm in the center of the painting giving off a sense of comradery.  This particular painting is of the women that worked at an ammunition factory.  I like the blues in the painting.  It seems very propaganda-y.  I believe that they were chosen to give a soothing and calming effect so that even though these delicate women were doing a “man’s job” they were in no danger themselves and everything would be okay for them. 

Lastly is a famous American painting by James Montgomery Flagg.

James Montgomery Flagg, Uncle Sam Wants You,

1917-1918, America

This painting doesn’t have an official title as far as I could find but, it is the famous Uncle Sam recruiting poster that has been used almost nonstop since World War I.  It was originally from the cover of Leslie’s Weekly asking people to be prepared during wartime.  But, it was quickly taken and used by the government in recruiting posters.  During World War I and since then the United States government realized that posters were an affective way of getting your message to people.  If they worked so well to notify people of upcoming events why couldn’t they be used to recruit people to join the military during wartime?   I personally like this painting because as far as a piece of propaganda goes it is actually pretty ingenious.  By creating the character of Uncle Sam the government could convey the feeling of family while asking you to become a trained killing machine.  “Your Uncle Sam wants you to join the military.  Do it for family.” sounds way better than “Join our killing force for some faceless bureaucrat!”.

Whether inspired by war to create like Felixmuller or commissioned like Flagg and Lion, World War I impacted the art that was being created like all wars do.


“British Art and Literature During World War I”  Khan Academy.  n.p.  n.d.  Web.  20 July 2014


“Flora Lion”  Wikipedia.  Web.  26 May, 2014.  20 July 2014


“Uncle Sam Wants You”  Wikipedia.  Web.  n.d.  n.p.  20 July 2014


“James Montgomery Flagg: American Imagist”  National Museum of American Illustration.  Web.  n.p.  2012.  20 July 2014.


“Conrad Felixmuller”  MoMA.  Web.  n.p.  2014.  20 July 2014.


“Soldier in a Madhouse (Soldat im Irrenhaus)”  LACMA.  Web.  n.p.  n.d.  20 July 2014



Impressionism: Great Art or Boring Artists With the Talent of a Third Grader Fooling Everyone

Impressionism was an art form that was popular late nineteenth century and let me tell you, it was pretty awful. Not all of it was absolutely terrible but, for every Claude Monet there seemed to be a dozen Mary Cassatts out there. In fact impressionism should have just been called “jocking Monet’s style” because that is basically what it was.


The painting above is the painting that started the impressionist movement.  It is a Monet entitled Impression, Sunrise (1872 Paris).  When looking at the mix of simplistic brushstrokes and various shades of blue you get a feeling of calm in the morning.  I find the painting to be intriguing and whenever I look at it I find myself focusing on different things.  Sometimes its the waves in the bottom that are just singular brushstrokes.  Sometimes its smoke from the upper left of the painting that when looked at closely looks like scribbling with paint.  But, every time my eyes are drawn to something different and I am amazed that something this simple can convey so much and be so interesting.  And that is what impressionism was supposed to be.  Capturing a scene or an impression with a kind of simplistic painting style that did not try to hide or blend the brush strokes.  I think that this worked for Monet because he tended to focus primarily on scenery. Even when his paintings had people in them the main focus still seemed to be the scenery.  But, for every painting like the one above there are about a million that look like this:


This is a painting by Mary Cassatt titled Lydia Leaning on her Arms (In a Theatre Box) (1879).  It doesn’t look simple or stripped down so that one can focus on the scene that is being depicted.  It looks like a color by numbers fiasco.  The facial features look like they were done by somebody that had never painted before in their life.  That’s how many of the impressionist works look.  And if the paintings weren’t like that then they were of just terrible subject matter.  Such as this:


This is Edgar Degas’ Dancers at the Bar (1888 Paris).  I enjoy the art style itself.  But, the subject is terrible.  Women stretching?  Seriously?  Why not paint them tying their shoes?  It is just as mundane and uninteresting.  And that is what I think drives me away from impressionism the most.  After the Renaissance and classical period where they painted these dramatic depictions of gods and revolutions and ancient mythical tales the next step in the evolution of painting is Reading by Morisot (1873 Paris) which is a depiction of a lady sitting on the grass reading or Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergere (1882 Paris) which looks like it is a painting of a bartender asking you for your drink order?  It’s just so boring.  Look at the next two paintings that I am going to present as an example of this.  The first is:


Oath of the Horatii (1782 France) by Jacques-Louis David.  Look at the subject matter of the painting, a fight between two sets of three brothers to end a war.  Women are fainting.  The babies are being shielded from the battle.  One brother watches as his other brothers are slain only to be inspired by their deaths to make a surprising comeback and defeat the other set of brothers and win the war.  Epic.  Timeless.  Now compare that to this:


This is Plum Brandy (1877 Paris) by Edouard Manet.  This painting is so dull, lifeless, and boring that even the lady in the painting looks bored.  I believe the French call it ennui.  This encapsulates my impression of impressionism.  One man (Monet) with a different idea of how and what to paint and bunch of talentless wannabes that trying to copy him by painting a bunch of boring scenes and failing to varying degrees.

Impression, Sunrise.  Wikipedia.  Wikimedia Foundation.,_Impression,_soleil_levant.jpg

Lydia Leaning on Her Arms (In a Theatre Box)  Wikipedia.  Wikimedia Foundation.

Dancers at the Bar.  Wikipedia.  Wikimedia Foundation.

Oath of the Haratii.  Wikipedia.  Wikimedia Foundation.

Plum Brandy.  The National Gallery of Art.

Edouard Manet.  Encyclopedia Britannica.

Welcome to Claude Monet’s.

Revolution and Art

In the eighteenth century there were many revolutions that took place around the world.  These revolutions were changing the world.  People were fed up with kings and regimes that gave the people no say in how they were governed.  The first of these occurred in the New World which would eventually be known as the United States of America.  Inspired by this revolution the French would follow suit.  A lesser known and less successful revolution, known as the Batavian Revolution, took place in what is now Holland that saw the end of the Dutch Republic.  The three pieces that have been chosen show scenes from these revolutions.  In fact a lot of the art from this time shows various depictions of these wars.  People often look to what is happening around them for inspiration and when it is war, then depictions of war is what you get.   The first piece is:

The Death of General Montgomery in the Attack on Quebec December 31, 1775 by John Trumbull (1786)  America


This painting depicts one of the early battles of the Revolutionary War.  The artist, John Trumbull, was a soldier in the war so he witnessed many of the horrors of war firsthand.  The fact that he was a revolutionary shows through in this painting particularly by his depiction of the death of the general at the center of the painting as almost a martyr.  I like how this painting is a callback to ancient mythology where the general is a god or hero of legend that has just died.  The general’s lifeless body is being mourned by the ones holding him up.  I particularly like how the men in the foreground are almost in shock that this great man could be dead.  It looks like they are screaming “NOOOOO!!!”.  This painting captures the horror of war very nicely.  Next is:

Tennis Court Oath by Jacques-Louis David (1791)  France


This drawing by neoclassical painter, Jacques-Louis David, depicts the famous Tennis Court Oath that took place in the opening days of the French Revolution.  Like Trumbull, David was an active participant in the revolution and witnessed firsthand many of the important moments of the revolution.  He drew on these firsthand account during this period to inspire him in his art.  This drawing is also a callback to ancient Rome.  It reminds me of Raphael’s School of Athens where there are all of these people standing in a room the attention is drawn to the middle of the piece to the most important person.  In this case it the man leading the oath while right below him are members of the revolution discussing the balance of church and state in the government that they want to set up.  Looking at this drawing I can’t help but think of the musical, Les Miserables.  It looks like this is a photograph of the musical midsong.  I think what I like most about this piece is the hope and energy that is shown through in the people drawn.  You can tell that they really believe in their cause and that they think that they will win.  The last piece is:

General Daendels Taking Leave of Lieutenant-Colonel Krayenhoff by Adriaan de Lelie (1795)  Amsterdam


This painting depicts Lt. Cl. Krayenhoff on his way to dissolve the Amsterdam Council during the Batavian Revolution.  de Lelie was not an active participant in this revolution but, he was still moved to depict this important moment in the Batavian Revolution.  This is my l east favorite of the three works chosen here because I find it to be the most plain.  It is just a simple scene of a winter day where some soldiers are getting ready to go do their duty.  The art itself is technically good but, so is the artwork that hangs in motel rooms.  There is nothing here that jumps out at me.  I tried to find more history about the painting because I thought that maybe I was missing something but could not find anything that changed my opinion of the work.  This painting is just a depiction of the mundane parts of war that happen before the fighting actually happens.

People can be inspired by anything.  Some artists look to nature.  Some look to the past.  The artists shown here and their works were inspired by the revolutions that were happening around them.  Some were active participants while others watched from afar but, all were affected by the war that they were witnessing.

Yale University Art Gallery.  The Death of General Montgomery in the Attack on Quebec December 31, 1775

Encyclopedia Britannica.  John Trumbull (American Painter)

Jacques-Louis David, The Complete Works.

Encyclopedia Britannica.  Jacques-Louis David (French Painter).

Rijks Museum.  Adriaan de Lelie.

Wikipedia.  Wikimedia Foundation.  Adriaan de Lelie.