FIELDS OF BATTLE

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FIELDS OF BATTLE

 

1. James McBey, A Moonlight Attack, 1918/20

The Scottish artist James McBey (1883–1959) was initially unable to enlist owing to his poor eyesight, but in 1916 he was commissioned as a second lieutenant working for the Army Printing and Stationery Service, based in Rouen. This service was responsible for printing and distributing forms, books and photographs. After showing some views of the Somme in London, he was appointed an official war artist, accompanying the Egyptian Expeditionary Force as they advanced through Palestine, from Gaza to Damascus, during the years 1917 and 1918. McBey was a self-taught etcher, but his handling of the medium is masterful in this dramatic image of men awaiting the order to attack.

2. Robert Sargent Austin, Ypres, 1920

Robert Austin (1895–1973) won a scholarship to the Royal College of Art in London in 1914, but his studies were interrupted by the outbreak of war. He served as a gunner in the trenches of the Western Front, so scenes like this would have been very familiar to him. The lone, blasted tree stands as a symbol for the destruction of Ypres, which was the scene of five major battles, while the ruined church hints at the human and spiritual cost of the war. The Ashmolean also holds two pencil studies (WA1985.152 and WA1985.154; 1918) for this print, the understated simplicity of which makes it all the more poignant. Once demobilized, Austin continued his studies, becoming an important etcher, and during the Second World War he worked as an official war artist.

 

 

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