Muirhead Bone was a well-established draughtsman and etcher when he became the first official war artist in July 1916. This was intended as a one-off appointment to provide further illustrations of the Battle of the Somme for publications like the War Pictorial.
Bone arrived in France on 16 August 1916 at the height of the Somme offensive. He was made an honorary second lieutenant and provided with a car, giving him easier access to the battlefields.
He toured the Somme battlefields in the south – Maricourt, Fricourt, Montauban, Mametz Wood, Contalmaison, Trônes Wood, High Wood, Delville Wood and Pozières. He worked quickly in pencil, pen, charcoal and chalk and by 6 October had sent home approximately 150 finished drawings.
LIEUTENANT MUIRHEAD BONE
The war artist Lieutenant Muirhead Bone crossing a muddy road, Maricourt, September 1916.
He mostly recorded life behind the lines, illustrating the context and impact of the battle rather than scenes of fighting. He depicted the work of the medical services, encampments, soldiers off duty, soldiers marching, landscapes and ruined towns.
He later said: 'I did not like to imagine war scenes & so only drew what I saw & then only when I had a chance to draw it. I am afraid [this] resulted in rather prosaic work'.
WATCHING OUR ARTILLERY FIRE ON TRÔNES WOOD FROM MONTAUBAN
One of a portfolio of 60 prints.
The detail and accuracy of Bone's drawings provided an authentic, eyewitness record of the immense logistic efforts of the Somme, one that proved extremely popular and resulted in more war artists being commissioned.
Bone returned to England in December 1916. He was involved in the foundation of the Imperial War Museum and was appointed a museum Trustee in 1920. He worked as a war artist again during the Second World War and was a member of the War Artists' Advisory Committee. He died in Oxford in 1953.