image: Three officers stand to the left of the composition beside a pile of ammunition boxes. Each looks in a different direction. One has his back to the viewer and looks out over the scene of the painting. There are marionette-like figures moving over broken ground, amongst the huts and shattered trees. Streams of stylised smoke erupts from incoming shells and spreads across the sky.
The First World War, especially the Western Front, was dominated by artillery. Counter-battery work was essential in order to suppress enemy barrages and this painting illustrates the deadly effect of precise German bombardment. The three gunners in the foreground calmly observe the devastation before them; stylised figures struggle through the cratered landscape and distorted columns of smoke rise above the battery position. The serenity of the gunners in the face of immediate chaos reflects a fatalism and detachment perhaps derived from their distanced and impersonal mode of warfare. In style and content this painting was one of the most controversial to come out of the First World War.
This is one of a series of paintings commissioned by the British War Memorial Committee set up by the Ministry of Information early in 1918. The Committee developed a scheme to build a ‘Great memorial gallery’ devoted to ‘fighting subjects, home subjects and the war at sea and in the air’. The centre of the scheme was to be a coherent series of paintings based on the dimensions of Uccello’s ‘Battle of San Romano’ in the National Gallery (72 x 125 inches), this size being considered suitable for a commemorative battle painting. While the commissions included some of the most avant-garde British artists of the time, the BWMC advisors saw the scheme placed within the tradition of artistic patronage, influenced by models from the Renaissance. It was intended that both the art and the setting would celebrate national ideals of heroism and sacrifice. The Hall of Remembrance was never completed and the collection was given to the Imperial War Museum.
Ministry of Information commission (Scheme 1) transferred to Imperial War Museum
W. L 1919