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



3 thoughts on “The Influence of World War I

  1. It is interesting to see the effect of war on the arts of the time. Undoubtedly, World War I was a shockingly influential event of the time, and shook the foundations of every facet of western society. I like how you pulled a piece from each of the key powers of WWI; the Germans, Brits, and Americans. I find the fist work the most powerful, the bold use of colors and discernible abstraction well coordinated. Also, your inclusion of the classic American recruiting poster was an interesting touch. Although I wouldn’t necessarily classify it as art, it certainly is an iconic piece not soon forgotten.

  2. I really like your inclusion of the US recruitment poster. I hadn’t thought of these at all as art influenced by the war but it absolutely is. And the fact that this piece is still widely recognized today is a testament to its ingenious, as you mentioned. I really like how you included art from both sides of the war, especially Britain, I wouldn’t have thought to look into that. Great post, I think this topic was by far the most interesting of the options.

  3. I really liked your inclusion of the propaganda. That was a really important part of this war. It is cool to read the origin of the Uncle Sam poster. I also really like the poster, and now I know a lot more about it. My favorite of the three paintings was first one. It is a very interesting piece. I like the use of the colors, even though there aren’t very many of them. The story and the painting match very well, and it does a good job at showing the hardships caused by the war. The second painting, although it looks nice, is kinda boring for me. It was made to boost moral, which it could do an effective job at, but it is a boring piece. The colors in it are very good though. It is interesting to see all of the different styles of art at this time. All three of these pieces were made at basically the same time, and they all use a different style. The war made movements in art hard to control as well, as everything was jumbled and disconnected.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s