The frieze of the camouflager

Camouflage—the art of concealment—was developed significantly during World War I thanks to the creation of the camouflage division.

Frise des camoufleurs Vue généraleMusée de l'Armée - Hôtel des Invalides

The camouflage division was created on August 14, 1915.

It was commissioned by painter Lucien-Victor Guirand de Scevola, who could be easily identified by his white hair.    

Its members of course included painters!      

Jean-Louis Forain (the figure with a cane to the right of Lucien-Victor Guirand de Scevola) 

and Ernest-Louis Lessieux (seated in a pool of red paint). Just two examples of many …

Architects and theater set designers were also on the list…      

Here: Louis Casidanus with his architect's rule 

and Georges Mouveau, set designer for the Paris Opera. It's easy to identify him given his height. 
The trees laying at his feet are also a potential nod to opera sets.

engravers and illustrators,    

For example, Camille Beltrand smoking a cigarette in the background.


Like Léon-Emile Bouchet, who had his buttocks painted by Ernest-Louis Lessieux.

and even authors      

Such as Georges Chepfer and his characteristic moustache. He was a singer and comedian.

The art of disguise    

Their purpose was to camouflage men, equipment, and communication channels.

Brassard d'officier de la section de camouflage (Ca.1915) by V. Petitfils (Manufacturer)Musée de l'Armée - Hôtel des Invalides

Right down to their insignia    

The special emblem adopted by the camouflagers was also the perfect symbol of their action: a chameleon.

Concealing men

Eugène Corbin designed special outfits to camouflage the troops.

Frise des camoufleurs Frise des camoufleurs, Villain, aka Drévil, 1916, From the collection of: Musée de l'Armée - Hôtel des Invalides
Combinaison à cagoule en toile camouflée, Jean-Baptiste Eugène Corbin (Painter), 1st quarter of the 20th century, From the collection of: Musée de l'Armée - Hôtel des Invalides
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Painted scale model of a cannon for camouflage studies (August 1914) by Jean-Baptiste Eugène Corbin (Designer)Musée de l'Armée - Hôtel des Invalides

Concealing the equipment    

Artillery was painted with patterns designed to break the lines of the cannons.

Pose de bâches pour le camouflage d'une route, 1915-1918 (Between 1915 and 1918) by Charles-Jean Hallo (Photographer)Musée de l'Armée - Hôtel des Invalides

Concealing the ground    

Their interventions also extended to improvements on the ground. Communication channels were hidden using painted canvases, mesh, or even netting.

Arbre observatoire en acier et tôle peinte, Armancourt, mars 1916 (March 1916) by Louis Paul Joseph Danton (Photographer)Musée de l'Armée - Hôtel des Invalides

New techniques, some of which were very dangerous!    

The camouflage division developed numerous new techniques. Artificial trees housing observation posts were installed at night to replace real trees.

Les « camoufleurs », Jean-Louis Forain en action (1914) by Jean Alexis Courboulin (Photographer)Musée de l'Armée - Hôtel des Invalides

Cubist painter André Mare (who is not in this photo) was also injured during the preparation of such an observation tree. Sixteen camouflagers were killed during World War I before the division was dissolved in December 1918.    

Frise des camoufleurs Vue généraleMusée de l'Armée - Hôtel des Invalides

The piece and its creator    

This frieze, which depicts the members of the camouflage division in the Nancy workshop in 1916, measures 13 feet (4 m) and was created by André Villain known as Drévil. The latter is also depicted drawing his companions with a notebook in hand.

A real day in the workshop or fiction?    

Who knows ... but the creation of camouflage divisions allowed many artists to use their skills to serve France within the various workshops including that of Nancy or even that of Paris managed by painter Abel Truchet.    

Credits: Story

A story written and edited by the teams of the Army Museum.
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