View from the Front: Representing the Great War

Georges Victor-Hugo (1868-1925) Poilu dans une tranchée, 1915-1917 Aquarelle, encre et graphite sur papier Paris, musée de l’Armée.
Georges Victor-Hugo (1868-1925)
Poilu dans une tranchée, 1915-1917
Aquarelle, encre et graphite sur papier
Paris, musée de l’Armée.

This major exhibition, organized as part of the commemorations of the centenary of the First World War, focuses on how those who experienced the war perceived and represented the Front. It brings together the contrasting approaches to the different Fronts – Western, Italian and Eastern – as well as to the Front Lines in the Middle East, the Dardanelles and the Balkans. Until now, the general public has been more familiar with works produced by avant-garde artists, or with propaganda illustrations, than with works created by soldiers, or by non-avant-garde artists employed on war art programmes. However, for those who were directly involved in the Great War, bearing witness to the reality of the Front and the experience of fighting was major concern. The exhibition seeks to highlight these concerns in all its diversity. Drawing on the exceptional material that the various belligerent states collected from the very outset of the war in order to bear witness to the conflict, View from the Front presents, for the first time, a comprehensive picture of the representations of the war produced by those who experienced it.

The exhibition includes a wide range of forms of testimony: paintings and drawings, some of which were done in the midst of the conflict with whatever materials were available, private and official photographs, press articles, films, posters, writing and objects. Among the items on show are works executed by conscripts and volunteers who were also well-known artists, such as Paul and John Nash, Otto Dix, Ernst Junger, Guillaume Apollinaire, Jacques Villon and Fernand Léger, as well as works by artists commissioned to produce paintings of the Front, including Félix Valloton, Edouard Vuillard and Georges Scott.

Édouard Vuillard (1868-1940) L’ Interrogatoire 1917 Détrempe sur carton marouflé sur toile Paris-La Défense, Centre national des arts plastiques, en dépôt Bibliothèque de documentation internationale contemporaine.
Édouard Vuillard (1868-1940) L’ Interrogatoire 1917
Détrempe sur carton marouflé sur toile. Paris-La Défense, Centre national des arts plastiques, en dépôt Bibliothèque de documentation internationale contemporaine.

Jean de Nivelle nous a nivelés
Et Joffre nous a offerts à la guerre!
Et Foch nous a fauchés…
Et Pétain nous a pétris…
Et Marchand ne nous a pas marchandés…
Et Mangin  nous a mangés!
–Blaise Cendrars, “J’ai tué”, 1918

Jacques Villon (Gaston Duchamp, dit) (1875-1963) Soldats en marche, 1913 Huile sur toile © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMNGrand Palais / Georges Meguerditchian / Service de presse © Adagp, Paris 2014
Jacques Villon (Gaston Duchamp, dit) (1875-1963)
Soldats en marche, 1913
Huile sur toile © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMNGrand Palais / Georges Meguerditchian / Service de presse © Adagp, Paris 2014

Pick up a pamphlet at the entrance desk for the English translation of the explanatory placards. There are 500 pieces, so allow at least 2 hours. The museum closes promptly at 17h. The exhibition runs until January 25. Access the Museum at les Invalides either from the Esplanade des Invalides or from the back side at place Vauban. The exhibition is organized by the Musée de l’Armée and the Bibliothèque de Documentation Internationale Contemporaine.

A major museum dedicated to French and European military history, the Musée de l’Armée is among the richest in the world, made up of almost 500,000 items that cover a period stretching from the Bronze Age to the late twentieth century. Its almost 1.4 million visitors make it one of France’s five most visited museums, and it offers an extensive cultural programme for all audiences. Website.
A significant resource both nationally and internationally, the Bibliothèque de Documentation Internationale Contemporaine is the only institution in France to collect, preserve and communicate holdings that cover the whole of contemporary European history. It was founded in 1917, with the mission of gathering together documents of any kind that could contribute to the interpretation and the writing of present-day history. Today, it provides access to more than 4.5 million items – books, newspapers and magazines, pamphlets, archives, films, art works, photographs, posters, press illustrations and objects – 130,000 of which are available through its online digital library. Website.
Victor Tardieu (1870-1937) Ruines de Verdun, 1916 Quatre huiles sur bois Paris, musée de l’Armée.
Victor Tardieu (1870-1937) Ruines de Verdun, 1916. Quatre huiles sur bois. Paris, musée de l’Armée.