1919WHERE CAN I SEE IT? Imperial War MuseumI LIKE IT
See also 'The Menin Road
There are more glamorous images by this roving American society painter, and certainly more sensational ones – such as ‘Portrait of Madame X’, his famous painting of a French banker’s wife which so scandalised the Paris art world in 1884 that, the following year, the artist moved permanently to Britain. Still, without the glamour and the scandal, we would be without this most moving of paintings, not just of WWI but of conflict in general. Commissioned in 1918 by the British War Memorials Committee, Sargent visited the Western Front, where he witnessed the horror of a mustard attack. He enshrines those events in this six-metre-long canvas which, saturated with symbolism, shows the wounded rising up and being led towards a field hospital, towards the light. Sargent takes the temporary blindness caused by mustard gas as a metaphor of sacrifice while, in the background, a football match shows tensions being put aside. It’s artifice, sure, a story about war and life and nationality, but it’s one that everyone wanted to believe. ‘Gassed’ was voted picture of the year by the Royal Academy of Arts in 1919. Almost a hundred years later, it ranks almost as highly.