Tate Britain presents an exhibition entitled Aftermath: Art in the wake of World War One which marks 100 years since the end of the First World War and explores the immediate impact of the conflict on British, German and French art. The exhibition brings together over 150 works from 1916 to 1932 by artists including George Grosz, Fernand Léger, Jacob Epstein, Paul Nash and C.R.W. Nevinson.
The first room in the exhibition illustrates some of the problems faced by artists in portraying the war. With many artists restricted by state censorship, many of the pictures are symbolic with devastated landscapes or soldier’s helmets or other equipment scattered on the battlefield. Pictures such as William Orpen’s A Grave in a Trench 1917 and Paul Jouve’s Tombe d’un soldat serbe a Kenali 1917 became part of the visual culture of portraying the conflict.
After the armistice, the attention moved from the battlefield to official public memorials which would provide a focus for mourning and remembrance. In the UK, the Cenotaph and the Tomb for the Unknown Soldier became important memorials which were used in remembrance ceremonies. Artists including Käthe Kollwitz, André Mare and Charles Sargeant Jagger produced sculptural memorials to commemorate those who lost their lives in the conflict. The large memorials contrasted with some of the more smaller and more personal memorials that used relics of the battlefield such as shrapnel and mortar shells.
The exhibition illustrates that although the dead were mourned after the war, those that had survived but suffered terrible physical and psychological scars faced an uncertain future with little infrastructure to deal with the scale of the problems. In Britain, images of wounded soldiers such as Henry Tonks’s medical pastel portraits give some idea of some of the issues. In Germany, Works such as George Grosz’s Grey Day 1921 and Otto Dix’s Prostitute and Disabled War Veteran 1923 were used in a more political sense.
For some artists, the traditional genres of painting seemed incapable of illustrating the fragmentation of societies and psychology of the self. Jacob Epstein had produced the powerful abstract Torso in metal from the ‘Rock Drill’ in 1913-14 but after the war the birth of dada and surrealism in the work of Hannah Höch, Max Ernst, André Masson and Edward Burra began to create new visual forms to process experiences and memories of the conflict. Heartfield’s The Petit-Bourgeois Philistine Heartfield Gone Wild. Electro-Mechanical Tatlin Sculpture 1920 provides a very different approach to portray physical and psychological scars.
Prints became a popular way to portray some of the aspects of the conflicts and the Print Portfolio room has a series of prints by Max Beckmann, Käthe Kollwitz and Georges Rouault.
The final rooms examine how post-war society began to rebuild itself, some artists such as Georges Braque, Christian Schad and Winifred Knights sought reassurance from the past whilst others such as Fernand Léger, Paul Citroen, and C.R.W. Nevinson turned their minds to visions of a technological future in the modern city.
This fascinating exhibition is the latest in a series of exhibitions and events in London that have portrayed different aspects of the First World War. This exhibition deals specifically with the impact on British, French and German art and it is noticeable that the artistic response in many ways reflected how the various nations were impacted by the war. Britain had suffered very little physical damage but suffered considerable psychological damage with its large losses and injuries. France had to deal with large areas of physical and psychological damage. Germany had suffered less physical damage, but the war and the paying of reparations led to considerable political turmoil that would eventually lead to rise of Nazi Germany.
Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended
For more information or to book tickets, visit the Tate Britain website here
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