Showing the ‘bitter truth’

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The Great War saw much innovation in the means of killing men and animals, but there was also the effect on the arts and man’s interpretation of the new era of mass destruction with the de-humanising effects of the technology of modern warfare.

As the 20th century began there emerged new schools of painting and representation of life, with artists coming to terms with what many regarded as the need to escape from the straitjacket of purely figurative art.

Abstraction and the work of the Vorticists, Futurists and others would influence the work of those who sought to present the reality of the war on the Western Front.

One of the most famous war artists of the 20th century, who experienced the First World War as an officer and suffered a mental breakdown in the early 1920s, was Paul Nash.

An exhibition of his work is on display at the Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle, until January 14. The large collection on tour from the Tate Gallery, London, features some of the famous paintings he did of the horrific scenes he witnessed on the Western Front.

The exhibition includes pre-war work, which was heavily influenced by his rural upbringing, and moves on through his war period to the 1920s when he became engaged with the works of the more abstract and surrealist schools. He was heavily influenced by the thoughts of the Italian artist and writer Giorgio de Chirico.

In 1917, following a period of sick leave at home following an accident in the front line, he returned to the war to find many of his former comrades had died in the fighting at Hill 60, during the Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendael). His sardonic work We Are Making A New World reflects not only his anger at the destruction of the landscape, but his bitterness at the continuation of the war.

In a letter to Margaret Nash in November 1917 he wrote: “It is unspeakable, Godless, hopeless. I am no longer an artist interested and curious. I am a messenger who will bring back word from men fighting to those who want the war to last forever.

“Feeble, inarticulate may be my message, but it will have a bitter truth and may it burn their lousy souls.”

Like the poet Siegfried Sassoon, who railed at the continuation of the war, Nash saw the suffering of the men contrasted against the attitudes of those at home who were profiting hugely from the seemingly intractable conflict.

Don’t miss this opportunity to see the paintings that Nash produced to shock the nation into understanding the reality of modern warfare and its destructive force against nature and mankind.

Admission to the exhibition is charged, but this is a rare opportunity to see such seminal art, rarely on view outside London.

New volunteers are welcome to join the project – the commitment of time is entirely at your discretion.

To find out more contact tommy@northumbriaworldwarone.co.uk or call into the workroom at Linskill.

The project workroom (Room B9) at Linskill Community Centre, North Shields, is open from 10am to 4pm each weekday for enquiries and for anyone to bring information about relatives lost in the war. The Memorial Garden is open for public visits during the opening hours of the centre, 8am to 5pm daily.