‘Vu du Front’ provides insight to the First World War as witnessed by those who suffered it first hand – the soldiers who were also artists, photographers, sketchers and film writers. Despite the horrors of the wartime experience, those living through it felt compelled to bear witness ‒ to the point of hand-making their own cameras, sketching on old scraps of paper, or even painting on bones. Although amateur photography was forbidden on the front by the state, hundreds of images were captured anyway.
This exhibition is rich, precise and instructive. Pulled together with in-depth international research, it reveals the many different ways in which the 1914-1918 conflict was interpreted. Whereas in 1914, propaganda coloured most images of war (printed on postcards, posters or leaflets dropped behind enemy lines), soon enough the wartime came to be represented through bleak landscapes, grave-like trenches, and the dawning realisation of the extent of human waste taking place.
From classicism to the avant-garde, many 20th century styles were used to convey the bloodbath. Jacques Villon related his experiences through cubism, whereas Félix Del Marle turned to futurism. Otto Dix coldly watched the war days roll by before creating his politically charged etchings ten years later, and in Fernand Léger’s work men and machines are permanently on the brink of breakdown. Félix Vallotton audaciously relates horror, for example by representing Verdun suffering the wrath of chaotic geometric lights. André Masson mulled over the happenings of the First World War for sixty years before putting to paper his dark memories of 1916-1917.
Le Musée de l’Armée brings us to the frontline of savage human butchery in a poignant, thought-provoking exhibition.
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