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Gassed

John Singer Sargent1919

Imperial War Museums

Imperial War Museums

The scene is the aftermath of a mustard gas attack on the Western Front in August 1918 as witnessed by the artist. Mustard gas was an indiscriminate weapon causing widespread injury and burns, as well as affecting the eyes. The painting gives clues about the management of the victims, their relative lack of protective clothing, the impact and extent of the gas attack as well as its routine nature – the football match goes on regardless.The canvas is lightly painted with great skill. Sargent draws the viewer into the tactile relationships between the blinded men. There is a suggestion of redemption as the men are led off to the medical tents, but the overall impression is of loss and suffering, emphasised by the expressions of the men standing in line. In sharp contrast to the victims, the football players are physically and visually co-ordinated and have full kit.Sargent travelled to France with artist, Henry Tonks in July 1918. Tonks describes the context for this work in a letter to Alfred Yockney on 19 March 1920: 'After tea we heard that on the Doullens Road at the Corps dressing station at le Bac-du-sud there were a good many gassed cases, so we went there. The dressing station was situated on the road and consisted of a number of huts and a few tents. Gassed cases kept coming in, lead along in parties of about six just as Sargent has depicted them, by an orderly. They sat or lay down on the grass, there must have been several hundred, evidently suffering a great deal, chiefly I fancy from their eyes which were covered up by a piece of lint... Sargent was very struck by the scene and immediately made a lot of notes.'Sargent was commissioned by the British Government to contribute the central painting for a Hall of Remembrance for World War One. He was given the theme of 'Anglo-American co-operation' but was unable to find suitable subject matter and chose this scene instead. ' The further forward one goes', he wrote 'the more scattered and meagre everything is. The nearer to danger, the fewer and more hidden the men - the more dramatic the situation the more it becomes and empty landscape. The Ministry of Information expects an epic - and how can one do an epic without masses of men?'

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Details

  • Title: Gassed
  • Creator: Sargent, John Singer (RA)
  • Date Created: 1919
  • Location: Le Bac-du-Sud, Doullens Road, Doullens, Somme, France
  • related people or organisations: British Army, Royal Army Medical Corps
  • provenance: Ministry of Information commission, 1918
  • period: First World War
  • Subject: wounded/disabled,  medical/convalescence,  sports/pastimes,  military personnel,  death,  military suffering,  artist's response,  Last Hundred Days 1918, Final Allied Offensives 1918, British Army 1914-1918,  Western Front 1914-1918
  • Physical Dimensions: w6111 x h2310 mm (unframed)
  • Provenance: © IWM (Art.IWM ART 1460)
  • Type: painting
  • External Link: Imperial War Museum website
  • Medium: oil

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