Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Saturday, August 16, 2014

War Artist C.R.W. Nevinson

Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson, 1889–1946

1913 Example of Nevinson's Prewar Thrust

Nevinson's formative years as a student were spent at the Slade School of Art (1909–12) in London. The Futurist Exhibition of March 1912, held at the Sackville Gallery, London, proved decisive for his development. Nevinson became the leading figure in English Futurism. In June 1914 he published with the Italian Futurist leader F.T. Marinetti, the inflammatory manifesto Vital English Art, which set him apart from the Vorticists around Wyndham Lewis. The Vorticists included Edward Wadsworth, David Bomberg, and William Roberts, all of whom were former classmates of Nevinson at the Slade before the war.

La Mitrailleuse, 1915

Widely Considered Nevinson's Masterpiece

At the outbreak of the First World War (1914–18), C.R.W. Nevinson volunteered as a Friends ambulance driver in Flanders and then as a private in the Royal Army Medical Corps until January 1916, when he was invalided out. This print comes from a group of drypoints and related paintings based on his war experiences which were shown at Nevinson's first solo exhibition at the Leicester Galleries in London in 1916. The success of the exhibition led to his appointment as an official war artist and to a set of lithographs entitled "Making Aircraft" for the series recording Britain's Efforts and Ideals commissioned by the Ministry of Information during the First World War.

Troops to the Front

Three Treatments on a Theme


Returning to the Trenches, 1914

A Dawn, 1914
Road to Ypres, 1916

Bleak, outspoken, and often angry, his paintings of 1915–16 are among the masterpieces of his career, bravely opposing the prevailing jingoistic tendency. Always seeking a public platform for his art, Nevinson told the Daily Express in 1915: "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."  However, by 1919 he had given up Futurism. Retreating instead to a more traditional vision, he painted lively interpretations of New York, which fuse a lingering love of Futurist angularity with a new respect for naturalistic observation. Nevinson was at his best when dealing with the dynamism and vertiginous scale of big city life. In later years he concentrated more on pastoral scenes and flower pieces, where a gentler mood prevailed.

Sources:  Websites of the British Museum and Tate Gallery

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