How did contemporaries perceive and represent the front? How did soldiers view the Great War? What did they show of it and why?
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Visitors will first be reminded that painting, photography and the illustrated press addressed the subject abundantly even before the war started. Societies thus constructed imaginary depictions of war where heroism and military patriotism played an essential role. But contemporaries discovered a very different reality in September 1914. To begin with, the absence of images from the conflict led to new ones being invented and earlier images being reclaimed and recycled.
This imaginary war was gradually replaced by the real-life conflict, as perceived by the millions of mobilised men, who sometimes brought a sketchbook or camera with them. This contact with combat will form the second section of the exhibition. The extraordinary violence of the battlefield and the advent of the trenches shaped the way war was viewed. The men showed a different war from that presented in the newspapers, illustrated press and films. Images from the front thus began to circulate and the warring sides tried to supervise image production (when they had not forbidden it entirely). They also organised missions of painters and photographic services.
As war raged on, there was a growing feeling that it would not be ending any time soon, and the wait led soldiers to depict and describe their living conditions in the trenches. Mud, heat, cold, boredom: all provided subjects for mobilised artists, photographers and writers. This sequence will form the third section of the exhibition. The new weapons like artillery and aviation, new techniques like camouflage and their consequences, are perceived in terms of their aesthetic aspect but are also seen as bearing witness to the new power of war and the barbarity of the enemy.
The experience of war profoundly changed societies, the way they confronted each other and the meaning they gave to conflict. Representations of war are as diverse as the experiences of the artists themselves. Exhibitions, stories, anthologies, publications, albums and films combining fiction and reality became widespread. Nonetheless, some artists kept their impressions of war to themselves, mulled them over for years or repressed them, only releasing them after a long phase of maturation and clarification. The exhibition is keen to make visitors aware of this plurality, by highlighting the fact that there is more than one representation of the First World War.
Exhibition co-produced with the Bibliothèque de Documentation Internationale Contemporaine - Université Paris Ouest Nanterre la Défense. This exhibition has received "Centenary Certification" celebrating the centenary of the First World War.
- At the Musée de l'Air et de l'Espace, see the Aviators in the Great War exhibition (until Sunday 22 February 2015, from 10am to 5pm. Full price ticket, €6 and reduced price ticket, €3.)