Colorful History

When looking back at historical events through art, it is important that you pay close attention to color. The use of proper color can express emotion, mood, and it will help convey the intended message of the piece. History is learned though first hand accounts. It is how each event was documented back then is how we today have learned about it. This gallery will focus on the history and color choices used in art pieces during World War 1 and World War 2.

Sargent John Singer commissioned "Gassed" in 1919. Pieces like this are a prime example of what it’s like to learn history through art. The use of very somber colors make this painting accentuate the emotion of the event depicted and really enhance the meaning. The level of detail in the actual soldiers helps draw the eye to them while a mix of tan, light rose red, grey, and a very light blue create for a very dramatic backdrop.
This piece utilizes lots of color. “WRNS Ratings Sail-Making: On Board HMS Essex” was commissioned by Stanhope Forbes in 1918. This painting shows what life was like helping to support the war. During World War One, woman would often help the war efforts by helping to sew soldiers uniforms, sails for boats, and other textile related things. The brightest colors are shown on the woman themselves bringing the focus to them. That woman's bright yellow dress really stands out among a dark backdrop. The colors seem very accurate as I can imagine a woman of that time wearing clothing exactly like the ones shown.
“The Cemetery, Etaples, 1919” was commissioned by Sir John Lavery in 1919. While some art from the World War one time period focuses on actual war efforts, this one depicts a strong and powerful image that really demonstrates the cost of war. Lavery pained each cross marker and through flowers around a few of them. I love how the tan, monochromatic colors of the crosses and dirt gradually lead up to a more colorful backdrop and sky. At this time in history, it is important to realize that these paintings were often more revealing than actual photographs of the time as they weren’t very detailed.
“Wire” by Paul Nash, is a bit more of an ambiguous piece. What is interesting to point out is the lack of color used. Winter war time during World War 1 was not a happy place and therefor it should not be colorful. Black, white, and grey bring about sadness and a feeling of remorse towards war in general. The trees in the background look like people from a distance but a close look reveals that they are just bare and lifeless trees. The one moment of color in this picture is in the upper left corner where you see a red color which is the sun shining through dark clouds. Could mean that there is always hope in the end.
Perhaps the most colorful piece in this gallery, “The Ballon Apron” by Frank Dobson, commissioned in 1918, is a very interesting piece. Compared to the previous works, this one reflects more of a positive message through color. A dominating light-to-deep blue combined with a warm green brings out a happy feeling as you visually examine the piece. Looking closely, Dobson drew very faint black lines under each of the flying balloons to show they are flying some sort of apron in front of the factory depicted. A real colorful standout piece amongst the rest of the World War 1 paintings.
“Oppy wood, 1917 Evening” was commissioned by John Nash in 1918. Another World War 1 painting but this time more realistic. The color choices are very accurate as Nash drew something very similar to a photograph. This painting depicts what it was like on the war front in the trenches. The trees that were broken off from explosions and the lack of life are what make this painting accurate. Paintings that resemble photographs are great learning tools. The clouds in front of the deep blue sky are fighter planes organizing together. What makes this piece interesting is really the choice of realistic colors.
“De-icing Aircraft” isn't the most interesting piece in this gallery however it is a look at what war preparations were like in 1942. A 24 year jump from World War 1, this piece was commissioned in 1942 by Eric Ravilious. In the forefront of the piece, you see a grey and white plane that is frozen in the tundra while in the background, you see a crew of people de-icing a plane. Another historically accurate example with gray white colors to accentuate the accuracy.
“Paths of Glory” commissioned in 1917 by C R W Nevinson is another World War 1 piece. This is another example of a more emotional form of painting. When you look at it, just the color choices of very dark warm colors evokes the emotion intended. Images like this give people a sense of what it was like to have actually been there. One thing that is useful to note is the blue water on the ground which nicely contrasts the dirt. Makes the accuracy of the piece really stand out.
“Preparations for D-Day” is another historical piece that was done in 1944 by Richard Ernst Eurich. This was done from a very unique point of view and drawn with very historically accurate colors. In order to see what is actually being done, requires a very close look. You see white blimps flying and soldiers loading onto boats to storm the shores of France. Another photographic like image with lots of warm colors and detail.
Henry Tonks commissioned “An Advance Dressing Station in France 1918” in 1918 and gives another historically accurate image to examine. The color choices of an orangish-red give the viewer a hint as to what time of day this was occurring. Color choices can give the viewer a sense of time as well. This looks like it is taking place around sunset. A dressing station is another term for medical station as this is where soldiers get their wounds bandaged.
Credits: All media
This user gallery has been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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