As we approach the anniversary of the end of the First World War, this is a timely publication. Fittingly, it is also not a sequence of proselytising anti-war images, but rather works by artists who were not recording heroic battles or glorious victories. Yes, Mark Gerlter’s Merry-Go-Round (1916) is here, as are George Micklewhite’s cartoon-like drawings of life as a conscientious objector, but there are also images from the home front and of life behind the lines.
There are two main sections, First World War and Second World War, each being treated separately. With a few exceptions, the artists featured in the second part were too young to feature in the first and, apart from attitudes, there are few comparisons to be made that are not immediately obvious to the viewer. It is interesting to note that some of those who refused WW1 changed their views in the 1930s in the face of Nazism. A short final chapter, Coda: a legacy of war and peace, sums up the theme of the book, but conflicts that fall outside the two main wars are outside its scope – to be fair, extending the brief would have made for a very large tome indeed.
The selection of artists is broad, as is the type of work illustrated. It is something of a shame that not every artist gets an illustration, but that could be seen as adding to the book’s completeness, rather than detracting from its appeal.
This is a useful and thought-provoking addition to the literature about war and art and is nicely put together and presented.
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