Military Wiki

A war artist depicts some aspect of war through art. The art might be a pictorial record, or it might commemorate how war shapes lives.[1] War artists explore the visual and sensory dimensions of war, often absent in written histories or other accounts of warfare.[2]

Definition and context

A war artist creates a visual account of the impact of war by showing men and women are waiting, preparing, fighting, suffering, celebrating,[3] or destroyed, as in Vasily Vereshchagin's 1871 painting, The Apotheosis of War.

The works produced by war artists illustrate and record many aspects of war and the individual's experience of war, whether allied or enemy, service or civilian, military or political, social or cultural. The role of the artist and his work embrace the causes, course, and consequences of conflict, and has an essentially educational purpose.[4]

Artists record military activities in ways that cameras and the written word cannot. Their art collects and distills the experiences of the men and women who endured in it.[5] The artists and their artwork affect how subsequent generations view military conflicts. For example, Australian war artists who grew up between the two world wars were influenced by the artwork which depicted the First World War, and there was a precedent and format for them to follow.[6]

Official war artists have been appointed by governments for information or propaganda purposes and to record events on the battlefield;[7] but there are many other types of war artists. These can include combatants who are artists and choose to record their experiences, non-combatants who are witnesses of war, and prisoners of war who may voluntarily record the conditions or be appointed war artists by senior officers.

In New Zealand, the title of appointed "war artist" changed to "army artist" after the two world wars.[8] In the United States, the term "combat artist" has come to be used to mean the same thing.[9][10]

Some examples and their background

William Simpson was an artist-correspondent who sent artwork to London from the front during the Crimean War.[11] Alfred Waud was an American civil war pictorial newspaper illustrator. Ogata Gekkō and Tsuguharu Foujita created woodblock prints for Japanese publications. Ronald Searle recorded life in Japanese POW camps.[12][13] Emmanuel Leutze's 1851 studio painting of Washington Crossing the Delaware is historically incorrect, and Leutze was born decades after the event his painting depicts, but this work has become an icon of popular culture.


File:Michael Fay USMC war artist.jpg

Michael Fay is an official US Marine war artist, one of only three whose work depicts the battlefronts in Iraq and Afghanistan (2007)

The American panorama created by artists whose work focuses on war began with a visual account of the American Revolutionary War. The war artist or combat artist captures instantaneous action and conflates earlier moments of the same scene within one compelling image. Artists are unlike the objective camera lens, which records only a single instant and no more.[14]

In 1917 the American military designated American official war artists, who were sent to Europe to record the activities of the American Expeditionary Forces.[15] In World War II, the Navy Combat Art Program ensured that active-duty artists developed a record of all phases of the war and all major naval operations.[14]

The official war artist continued to be supported in some military engagements. Teams of soldier-artists during the Vietnam War created pictorial accounts and interpretations for the annals of army military history.[16] Since 1992 the Army Staff Artist Program was attached to the United States Army Center of Military History as a permanent part of the Museum Division's Collections Branch.[15]

The majority of combat artists of the 1970s were selected by George Gray, chairman of NACAL, Navy Air Cooperation and Liaison committee. Some of their paintings will be selected for the Navy Combat Art Museum in the capital by Charles Lawrence, director. (Hickok, 1978) In January 1978 the U.S. Navy chose a seascape specialist team: they asked Patricia Yaps and Wayne Dean, both of Milford, Connecticut, to capture air-sea rescue missions off of Key West while they were based at the nearby Naval Air Station Key West. They were among 78 artists selected that year to create works of art depicting navy subjects.[17][18][19]

Selected artists

A select list of representative American artists includes:

Revolutionary War

Civil War

Spanish-American War

World War I

Gassed, 1918, by John Singer Sargent. Oil on canvas, 231 x 611.1cm (91 x 240.5in). Collection of the Imperial War Museum, London

World War II

Vietnam era

Soldier Artist Participants in the U. S. Army Vietnam Combat Artists Program

Landing Zone by John O. Wehrle, CAT I, 1966, Courtesy of the National Museum of the United States Army

  • CAT I, 15 Aug – 15 Dec 1966, Roger A. Blum (Stillwell, KS), Robert C. Knight (Newark, NJ), Ronald E. Pepin (East Hartford, CT), Paul Rickert (Philadelphia, PA), Felix R. Sanchez (Fort Madison, IA), John O. Wehrle (Dallas, TX), and supervisor, Frank M. Sherman
  • CAT II, 15 Oct 1966 – 15 Feb 1967, Augustine G. Acuna (Monterey, CA), Alexander A. Bogdanovich (Chicago, IL), Theodore E. Drendel (Naperville, IL), David M. Lavender (Houston, TX), Gary W. Porter (El Cajon, CA), and supervisor, Carolyn M. O'Brien
  • CAT III, 16 Feb – 17 June 1967, Michael R. Crook (Sierra Madre, CA), Dennis O. McGee (Castro Valley, CA), Robert T. Myers (White Sands Missile Range, NM), Kenneth J. Scowcroft (Manassas, VA), Stephen H. Sheldon (Los Angeles, CA), and supervisor, C. Bruce Smyser
  • CAT IV, 15 Aug – 31 Dec 1967, Samuel E. Alexander (Philadelphia, MS), Daniel T. Lopez (Fresno, CA), Burdell Moody (Mesa, AZ), James R. Pollock (Pollock, SD), Ronald A. Wilson (Alhambra, CA), and technical supervisor, Frank M. Thomas
  • CAT V, 1 Nov 1967 – 15 March 1968, Warren W. Buchanan (Kansas City, MO), Philip V. Garner (Dearborn, MI), Phillip W. Jones (Greensboro, NC), Don R. Schol (Denton, TX), John R. Strong (Kanehoe, HI), and technical supervisor, Frank M. Thomas
  • CAT VI, 1 Feb – 15 June 1968, Robert T. Coleman (Grand Rapids, MI), David N. Fairrington (Oakland, CA), John D. Kurtz IV (Wilmington, DE), Kenneth T. McDaniel (Paris, TN), Michael P. Pala (Bridgeport, CT)
  • CAT VII, 15 Aug – 31 Dec 1968, Brian H. Clark (Huntington, NY), William E. Flaherty Jr. (Louisville, KY), William C. Harrington (Terre Haute, IN), Barry W. Johnston (Huntsville, AL), Stephen H. Randall (Des Moines, IA), and supervisor, Fitzallen N. Yow
  • CAT VIII, 1 Feb – 15 June 1969, Edward J. Bowen (Carona Del Mar, CA), James R. Drake (Colorado Springs, CO), Roman Rakowsky (Cleveland, OH), Victory V. Reynolds (Idaho Falls, ID), Thomas B. Schubert (Chicago, IL), and supervisor, Fred B. Engel
  • CAT IX, 1 Sept 1969 – 14 Jan 1970, David E. Graves (Lawrence, KS), James S. Hardy (Coronado, CA), William R. Hoettels (San Antonio, TX), Bruce N. Rigby (Dekalb, IL), Craig L. Stewart (Laurel, MD), and supervisor, Edward C. Williams

Recent conflicts


War artists have depicted all the conflicts in which Australians have been called to combat. The Australian tradition of "official war artists" started with the First World War. Artists were granted permission to accompany the Australian Imperial Force to record the activities of its soldiers. During the Second World War, the Australian War Museum, later called the Australian War Memorial, engaged artists. At the same time, the Australian Army, Royal Australian Navy, and Royal Australian Air Force appointed official war artist-soldiers from within their ranks.[35] These embedded war artists have depicted the activities of Australian forces in Korea, Vietnam, East Timor, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

The ranks of non-soldier artists like George Gittoes continue to create artwork which becomes a commentary on Australia's military actions in war.[36]

Selected artists

A select list of representative Australian artists includes:

Second Boer War

Australians and New Zealanders at Klerksdorp 24 March 1901 by Charles Hammond

  • William Dargie CBE, 1912–2003[37]

First World War

Second World War

Recent conflicts



British participation in foreign wars has been the subject of paintings and other works created by Britain's war artists. Artwork like the 1688 painting,The Fleet at Sea by Willem van de Velde the Younger depict the Royal Navy in readiness for battle. The Ministry of Defence art cvollection includes many paintings showing battle scenes, particularly naval battles.[49] Military art and portraiture has evolved along with other aspects of war. The British official war artists of the First World War created a unique account of that conflict. The British War Artists Scheme expanded the number of official artists and enlarged the scope of their activities during the Second War.[50]

Significant themes in the chronicle of twentieth-century wars have been developed by non-military, non-official, civilian artists. For example, society portraitist Arabella Dorman's paintings of wounded Iraq War veterans inspired her to spend two weeks with three regiments in different frontline areas: the Green Jackets at Basra Palace, the Queen's Own Gurkhas at Shaibah Logistics Base ten miles south-west of Basra, and the Queen's Royal Lancers in the Maysaan desert. In the field, Dorman drew quick charcoal portraits of the men she met. Returning to England, the sketches she made helped her use art to "evoke the emotions and psychological impact of war," rather than depicting the "physical horror" of war.[51]

Selected artists

A select list of representative British artists includes:

Napoleonic Wars

The Fall of Nelson, Battle of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805 by Denis Dighton, c. 1825

The Last Stand at Isandlwana, 1879 by Charles Edwin Fripp in 1885. Collection of the National Army Museum of South Africa

  • Denis Dighton, 1792–1827[52]
  • Robert Ker Porter, 1777–1842[53]
  • John Christian Schetky,1778–1874[49]

Crimean War

Boer Wars

First World War

Second World War

Recent conflicts


First World War

  • Alfred Bastien, 1873—1955[92]


Canadian Forestry Corps' Gas Attack, Lievin (1918) by Canadian war artist A. Y. Jackson

Representative works by Canada's artists whose work illustrates and records war are gathered into the extensive collection of the Canadian War Museum. A few First World War paintings were exhibited in the Canadian Senate Chamber, and artists studied these works as a way of preparing to create new artworks in the conflict in Europe which expanded after 1939.[93]

"The war art commissions brought intense focus to the observation of Canada's role in international conflict... A driving need for a strong national identity urged First and Second World War artists toward symbolism. While these vivid images are of a now distant past, they continue to communicate their messages to us, and so never lose their relevance."[94]

In the Second World War, Canada expanded its official art program;[93] Canadian war artists were a kind of journalist who lived the lives of soldiers.[94] The work of non-official civilian artists also became part of the record of this period. Canada supported Canadian official war artists in both the First World War and the Second World War; no official artists were designated during the Korean War.[95]

Among Canada's embedded artist-journalist teams was Richard Johnson, who was sent by the National Post to Afghanistan in 2007 and 2011; his drawings of Canadian troops were published and posted online as part of the series "Kandahar Journal".[96]

Selected artists

A select list of representative Canadian artists includes:

First World War

  • John William Beatty, 1869–1941[94]
  • Alexander Young Jackson CC CMG, 1882–1974[94]
  • Arthur Lismer CC, 1885–1969[94]

    Capt. Will Ogilvie, Official army war artist, with some of his paintings, 9 February 1944

  • Frederick Varley, 1881–1969[94]

Second World War

  • Eric Aldwinckle, 1909-1980[97]
  • Donald Kenneth Anderson, 1920–2009[98]
  • Alan Brockman Beddoe OC OBE HFHS FHSC, 1893–1975[99]
  • Molly Lamb Bobak CM ONB, 1922–    [100]
  • David Alexander Colville PC CC ONS, 1920–2013[101]
  • Charles Fraser Comfort OC, 1900–1994[102]
  • Lawren P. Harris, 1910-1994
  • William Abernethy Ogilvie CM MBE, 1901–1989
  • George Campbell Tinning RCA (Royal Canadian Academy of Arts), 1910-1996[103]
  • Jack Shadbolt OC OBC, 1909–1998[94]

Recent conflicts


  • Li Hua
  • Feng Zikai


  • Pieter Snayers
  • Philips Wouwerman


File:Salon des Armées, exhibition poster, 1916.jpg

French war art poster by Henri Dangon, 1916. Lithograph by Imp. H. Chachoin, Paris

During the First World War, the work of artists depicting aspects of the military conflict were put on display in official war art exhibitions.[105] In 1916 the Ministry of Beaux-Arts and the Ministry of War sponsored the Salon des Armées to show the work of the artists who had been mobilized. This one exhibition realized 60,000 francs. The proceeds supported needy artists at home and the disabled.[105]

  • Hippolyte Bellangé
  • Nicolas Toussaint Charlet
  • Edouard Detaille
  • Antoine-Jean Gros
  • Constantin Guys
  • Eugène Louis Lami
  • Louis-François, Baron Lejeune
  • Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier
  • Alphonse-Marie de Neuville
  • Paul Philippoteaux
  • Paul Alexandre Protais
  • Denis Auguste Marie Raffet
  • Carle Vernet
  • Horace Vernet
  • Antoine Watteau
  • Adolphe Yvon


  • Emmanuel Leutze
  • Adolf Menzel

Franco-Prussian War

First World War

Second World War

Recent conflicts



  • Kim Seong-hwan, 1932–    [118]

New Zealand

War artists have been appointed by the government to supplement the record of New Zealand’s military history.[119] The title of "war artist" changed to "army artist" when Ion Brown was appointed after the two world wars.[120]

Conservators at the National Art Gallery considered the collection to be of historic rather than artistic worth; few were displayed.[121] New Zealand's National Collection of War Art encompasses the work of artists who were working on commission for the Government as official war artists, while others created artworks for their own reasons.[122]

Selected artists

A select list of representative New Zealand artists includes:

First World War

Bellevue Ridge, 1918 by New Zealand official war artist George Edmund Butler

Second World War

Recent conflicts


The Third of May 1808: The Execution of the Defenders of Madrid, 1814, by Francisco Goya. Oil on canvas. 266 x 345cm. Collection of the Museo del Prado

South African

  • Neville Lewis (World War II)


See also


  1. Imperial War Museum (IWM), header phrase, "war shapes lives"
  2. Australian War Memorial (AWM): Australian official war artists
  3. Canadian War Museum (CWM), "Australia, Britain, and Canada in the Second World War," 2005.
  4. "About the Imperial War Museum". Retrieved 2012-07-15. 
  5. U.S. Naval Historical Center (NHHC), "World War II Navy Art: A Vision of History,", 2001
  6. Reid, John B. (1977). Australian Artists at War, Vol. 2, p. 5.
  7. National Archives (UK), "'The Art of War,' Learn About the Art."
  8. Gauldie, Matt. "History of the NZ Army Artist"
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 "With Sketchpads and Guns, Semper Fi";
  10. "Marine Art,". 2010-07-14. Retrieved 2012-07-15. 
  11. Harrington, Peter. "The First True War Artist," MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History, Vol. 9, No. 1, Autumn 1996, pp. 100–109.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Steve Bell. "Ronald Searle: a life in pictures,". Guardian. Retrieved 2012-07-15. 
  13. Grove, Valerie. "Aged 90, Ronald Searle recalls the bad girls of St Trinian's,"The Times (London). February 20, 2010.
  14. 14.0 14.1 "Navy Combat Art Program". 1966-09-15. Retrieved 2012-07-15. 
  15. 15.0 15.1 United States Army Center of Military History (CMH), Army Art Program History.
  16. Pollock. "U.S. Army Vietnam Combat Art Program". Retrieved 2012-04-21. 
  17. Oline Cogdill, Official Combat Artists; They 'Capture' the Navy, People Today, March 11, 1978
  18. Andree Hickok, 2 Combat artists capture life and death on canvas, The Sunday Post Closeup F-1, July 2, 1978
  19. Virginia Adams, Navy Draft Patricia YAps as combat artist, The News-Times, July 10, 1978
  20. Rocco, Keith et al. (2004). The Soldier's View: The Civil War Art of Keith Rocco.
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 21.3 21.4 "artists, p. 1". 1918-07-10. Retrieved 2012-07-15. 
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 "artists, p. 2". Retrieved 2012-07-15. 
  23. "McClelland Barclay, Naval Art Collection". Retrieved 2012-07-15. 
  24. 24.0 24.1 24.2 24.3 Brown University Library, American war artists
  25. 25.0 25.1 "''They Drew Fire: Combat Artists of World War II,''". Retrieved 2012-07-15. 
  26. Howard Brodie. 1st broadcast, May 2000.
  27. "Olin Dows". Retrieved 2012-07-15. 
  28. "William Franklin Draper, Naval Art Collection". Retrieved 2012-07-15. 
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  30. Edward Reep 1st broadcast, May 2000.
  31. Perricelli, Lynne Moss. "Drawing: Henry Casselli: Drawing From the Inside Out," American Artist. 7 Mar 2008.
  35. Wilkins, Lola. "Interpreting the war: Australia's Second World War art." CWM, 2005.
  36. 36.0 36.1 Strauss, David Levi. "George Gittoes with David Levi Strauss," The Brooklyn Rail (New York). July 8, 2010; Order of Australia, George Gittoes, AM, excerpt of citation, "For service to art and international relations as an artist and photographer portraying the effects on the environment of war, international disasters and heavy industry".
  37. AWM: Australia and the Boer War, 1899–1902; The incident for which Captain Howse was awarded the VC in Vredefort, July 1900 by William Dargie (1968, oil on paper on board, 25.5 x 35.5 cm), AWM ART29246
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  39. Gray, Anne. (1986). "McCubbin, Louis Frederick (1890–1952)," Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol. 10, pp. 243–244; excerpt, "Appointed an official war artist under the Australian Records Section scheme to the 3rd Division, he visited scenes of battles with Wallace Anderson and Charles Web Gilbert after the war to collect data for proposed dioramas.
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  52. National Maritime Museum (NMM), The Fall of Nelson, Battle of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805 by Denis Dighton, c. 1825.
  53. National Portrait Gallery(NPG), Robert Ker Porter
  54. National Portrait Gallery, Expansion and Empire
  55. Australian Dictionary of Biography (ADB), Brierly, Sir Oswald Walters (1817–1894)
  56. Library of Congress (LOC), Simpson, William, 1823–1899
  57. "Bacon, 1868–1914". Retrieved 2012-07-15. 
  58. Charles Edwin Fripp; excerpt, "Fripp also held a commission in the Artists Rifles for 13 years ...."
  59. British Sporting Artists Trust (BSAT), Godfrey Douglas Giles
  60. WorldCat Identities: Prater, Ernest
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  63. Imperial War Museum. "Gassed and Wounded [Art.IWM ART 4744"]. IWM Collections Search. Retrieved 16 April 2013. ; also a war artist in the Second World War.
  64. "John Hodgson Lobley, 1878–1954". BBC in partnership with The Public Catalogue Foundation. 
  65. "Witness – Highlights of First World War Art". Imperial War Museum. 
  66. Imperial War Museum. "'Over The Top'. 1st Artists' Rifles at Marcoing, 30th December 1917 [Art.IWM ART 1656"]. IWM Collections Search. Retrieved 16 April 2013. ; also a war artist in World War II.
  67. Imperial War Museum. "The Menin Road [Art.IWM ART 2242"]. IWM Collections Search. Retrieved 16 April 2013. ; also a war artist in World War II.
  68. Imperial War Museum. "Paths of Glory [Art.IWM ART 518"]. IWM Collections Search. Retrieved 16 April 2013. 
  69. Imperial War Museum. "Harvest, 1918 [Art.IWM ART 4663"]. IWM Collections Search. Retrieved 16 April 2013. ; also a war artist in World War II.
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  72. "Edward Bawden" (in fr). Retrieved 2012-07-15. 
  73. "Henry Carr" (in fr). Retrieved 2012-07-15. 
  74. Thomas, Ronan; West End at War: Anthony Gross. Retrieved 24 April 2013
  75. Tate: Anthony Gross - Artist biography. Retrieved 24 April 2013
  76. "Eliot Hodgkin". Imperial War Museums. Retrieved 2012-09-16. 
  77. "Laura Knight" (in fr). Retrieved 2012-07-15. 
  78. "Philip Meninsky". Imperial War Museum. Retrieved 2013-04-25. 
  79. Portrait by Old at Imperial War Museum
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  83. "Ruskin Spear" (in fr). Retrieved 2012-07-15. 
  84. "Graham Sutherland" (in fr). Retrieved 2012-07-15. 
  85. "Carel Weight" (in fr). Retrieved 2012-07-15. 
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  91. "Falklands War 1982, Linda Kitson's artistic record". Imperial War Museum. Retrieved 20 April 2013. 
  92. "Alfred Bastien" (in fr). Retrieved 2012-07-15. 
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  95. "North Korea: The Forgotten War," CBC News (Canadian Broadcasting Company). July 18, 2003.
  96. Johnson, Richard. "Kandahar Journal | National Post". Retrieved April 20, 2012. 
  97. "Eric Aldwinckle - Nothing Uninteresting". Retrieved 18 July 2013. 
  98. "Donald Kenneth Anderson, RCAF: Official War Artist". Retrieved 2012-04-21. 
  99. Library and Archives Canada (LAC), Alan Brockman Beddoe
  100. "Molly Lamb Bobak". Retrieved 2012-07-15. 
  101. "David Alexander Colville". Retrieved 2012-07-15. 
  102. "Charles Fraser Comfort". Retrieved 2012-07-15. 
  103. Library and Archives Canada (LAC)
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  117. Complutense University of Madrid, Biblioteca Histórica Marqués de Valdecilla. Exposición "Flores de Edo: samuráis, artistas y geishas" 4 November 2004 – 10 January 2005.
  118. Salmon, Andrew. "A Cartoonist at War: 'Gobau's' Korea, 1950," The Asia-Pacific Journal, July 13, 2009; "A teenage cartoonist’s diary of horrors," JoongAng Ilbo. July 10, 1010.
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  121. "What is War Art". 1918-09-22. Retrieved 2012-07-15. 
  122. "War Art, Artist biographies". Retrieved 2012-07-15. 
  123. "George Edmund Butler". Retrieved 2012-07-15. 
  124. "James Boswell". 1944-05-15. Retrieved 2012-07-15. 
  125. "Russell Clark". Retrieved 2012-07-15. 
  126. "John McIndoe". Retrieved 2012-07-15. 
  127. "Peter McIntyre's war art online''". Retrieved 2012-07-15. 
  128. "Artist Profile". Ion Brown. Retrieved 2012-04-21. 
  129. "NZ Army - NZ Army Artist". Retrieved 2012-04-21. 
  130. Fisher, David. "Feature: Capturing the Moment," New Zealand Listener (June 28 – July 4, 2008) Vol. 214, No. 3555.
  131. "Pintor de Batallas". 


Further reading

  • Reid, John B. (1977). Australian Artists at War: Compiled from the Australian War Memorial Collection. Volume 1. 1885–1925; Vol. 2 1940–1970. South Melbourne, Victoria: Sun Books. 10-ISBN 0725102543/13-ISBN 9780725102548; OCLC 4035199
New Zealand
South Africa
  • Carter, Albert Charles Robinson. (1900). The Work of War Artists in South Africa. London: "The Art Journal" Office. OCLC 25938498
United Kingdom
United States

External links

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