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

Monday, July 30, 2018

Recommended: Introducing War Artist Samuel Johnson Woolf

From Army History, Spring 2015

A Night March

By Sarah Forgey

The Army Art Collection recently acquired a number of pieces of important eyewitness artwork from World War I. An artist-correspondent, Samuel Johnson Woolf worked for Collier’s Weekly and spent four months embedded with the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) in France, sketching in the trenches along the front and behind the lines. Upon his return to New York, Woolf immediately began a series of paintings based on his experiences, which were exhibited at the Milch Galleries in New York City and the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, gaining him acclaim as a war artist. . . 

First Aid Station at Seicheprey

Rather than focusing on the impersonal technological advances that changed the face of warfare forever, Woolf often concentrated on the human element. His paintings do not highlight the mechanized and anonymous carnage, fixating instead on the personal stories that he witnessed. Woolf’s sobering authenticity transported his American audience right to the heart of the conflict, as if they too were part of the harrowing events portrayed. . . 

Intelligence Officer Interrogating German Prisoners

Explaining his first few days in the trenches, Woolf said, “You may ‘go in’ thinking you will set to work at once, but so full of strange emotions does your life become that painting is out of the question.” He assisted with the wounded, drove an ambulance, pitched in with cooking when the cook was gassed, and even attempted to rescue some paintings from a local church before it was shelled. . .

Woolf’s 23 paintings are an important addition to the Army Art Collection, which contains very few eyewitness pieces from World War I. While there were officially eight War Department artists documenting the AEF, their work is under the care of the Smithsonian Institution. 

Sarah Forgey is the curator of the U.S. Army Art Collection.

To read her full article and see more of Woolf's paintings, visit:

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating article, powerful images. Thanks for sharing.