Saturday, September 25, 2010

Art of the American Soldier

Art of the American Soldier: George Harding, Lester G. Hornby, Franklin Boggs, Howard Brodie, Paul MacWilliams, Frank M. Thomas, Sieger Hartgers, Peter G. Varisano, Elzie Golden
I’ve written before about combat artists, soldiers called on (or inspired to) record their experiences in combat and in other aspects of a soldier’s life.

Starting in World War I, the U.S. Army had a program of officially designated combat artists. Remarkably, they were told to record their experiences directly as they saw them, and not reserved or slanted as nationalistic propaganda.

That principle seems to have been adhered to over the years, so we get to see soldiers’ lives through their own eyes, largely unaltered by the otherwise expected filters of military bureaucracy and politicians.

The Army has a collection of hundreds of works, spanning generations of artists, that its curator calls “the most famous collection no one’s ever heard of”.

Selections have been drawn from that collection as part of a new exhibition titled Art of the American Soldier that opened yesterday at the National Constitution Center here in Philadelphia.

The online preview is arranged along a horizontally scrolling 100 year timeline, from WWI to the present day. You can hover your mouse over individual images for brief credits, and click for more detailed information and larger view, that can in turn be clicked on for a larger image.

Art of the American Soldier is on view until January 10, 2011.

(Images above: George Harding, Lester G. Hornby, Franklin Boggs, Howard Brodie, Paul MacWilliams, Frank M. Thomas, Sieger Hartgers, Peter G. Varisano, Elzie Golden)

5 thoughts on “Art of the American Soldier

  1. Dave Dubé

    I wonder if they’ve any examples of the art of Ben Steele, who lived (remarkable in itself) through the Bataan Death March – and lived (and still lives) to record the lives and deaths of his fellow soldiers with some very telling art.

    I believe I’ve seen the third from the top in the Life book about WWII, which my father ‘kept on the shelf’. I had to sneak peeks at the book which I found somehow very fascinating, and he kept but wouldn’t open.

  2. Daniel van Benthuysen

    In the 19th century it was common practice to require students to learn drawing, in aerial as well as linear perspective, at the military academies. Surveying parties needed to be able to show what they had found and mapping alone was not considered enough.

    Combat artists have a long (and honorable) tradition. There are accounts, among many others, of Willem van de Velde the younger, for instance, sketching sea battles from a rowboat beneath the guns as the English and Dutch fought in the 17th century.

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