“World War I and American Art” is an exhibition currently at the Museum of The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts here in Philadelphia.
Drawing partly from their own collection and partly from loans, the Academy’s Museum of has mounted an exhibition that delves into the response of American artists to the First World War in Europe. Next year marks the centenary of the official U.S. involvement in that war; the United States declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917.
The exhibition tries to give a broad view of the events leading up to and during the war, both here and in Europe, from the horrors and insanity of combat, to the desperate hope of those who waited for their loved ones to return, to the end of the conflict.
The highlight of the show is John Singer Sargent’s monumental and striking work, Gassed (Wikipedia link) — on loan from the Imperial War Museum in London (image above, top, with detail). It depicts a group of British soldiers, their eyes bandaged from the corrosive effects of the poison gas, hands on one another’s shoulders, following in line to a dressing station where their wounds could be better tended.
I saw this painting when it was in New York in 1999, and it’s stunning, both visually and emotionally. On Sunday, I will be taking my mother-in-law to the museum to see the painting. Her father was gassed in WWI. Though he survived, he was without hair on his body, his lungs never quite recovered and he died young.
The other works in he show are both from combat artists like Kerr Ebby, and some of the finest American painters of the time.
In honor of Veterans Day, museum admission is free for military veterans and active service members from November 11 to the 13th. By virtue of sponsorship, the museum is also open free to the general public on Sundays through the duration of the exhibition.
“World War I and American Art” will be on display at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts through April 9, 2017.
(Images above: John Singer Sargent, Claggett Wilson, Kerr Eby, Violet Oakley, George Luks, Gifford Beal, Childe Hassam)