A Bitter Truth: Avant-Garde Art and the Great War

TitleA Bitter Truth: Avant-Garde Art and the Great War
Publication TypeBook
Year of Publication1994
AuthorsCork, Richard, and Barbican Art Gallery
Number of Pages336
PublisherYale University Press in association with Barbican Art Gallery
CityNew Haven

The trauma of the First World War had an immensely powerful effect on the painters, sculptors, and printmakers who participated in it. They produced an extraordinary range of striking images that conveyed the immediacy and horror of their experiences and feelings. This arresting book is the first to bring together and examine the full international array of images spawned by the Great War. Richard Cork shows how avant-garde artists from Europe, Russia, and the United States challenged the recruiting posters and other propagandist views of the struggle by producing art that reflected the degradation of the trenches. Many of their images are now counted among the landmarks of early twentieth-century art, but his pioneering and lavishly illustrated book also examines a wealth of far less familiar work. The conflict was anticipated before hostilities began by the visionary and apocalyptic work of painters such as Meidner and Kandinsky, Chagall, Nevinson, Grosz, Beckmann, Kirchner, and other artists were quick to define war's essential tragedy with objective, expressionist, or allegorical art that alluded to their own wartime experiences. The harshest images of war were made in the later stages or after the Armistice, when artists such as Dix had time to consider their participation in the war. Ironically, the post-war years also witnessed the redemptive work of Spencer and Brancusi who, after the Armistice, produced monumental affirmations of brotherhood, fortitude, and love.

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