The Landscapes of War
The Forgotten Front : French trenches in front of Ampfersbach in Alsace (1916)
Francois Flameng (along with Georges Scott) was one the most renowned illustrators of the Great War in France. He was a talented and respected artist in his own right for many years before the war, and was a historical painter as well as a modern portratist and decorator of public buildings. He was professor at the academy of Fine Arts and honorary president of the (french) Society of Military Painters as well as an officially accredited artist to the War Ministry.
In that capacity he received a laissez-passer for the front lines and was one of the few artists to frequenty visit the area of combat operations throughout the entire war. From 1915 onwards his paintings and watercolors were publicly exhibited in the Salle d'Honneur de l'Hotel des Invalides in Paris, but as the French government wished for a larger circulation of his outstanding work, publication was encouraged via the media. His work became mostly known via lavish large-sized color reproductions in newsmagazines such as 'L'Illustration'.
In 1920 Francois Flameng donated most of his work to the musée de l'Armée where they were incoporated into the newly formed exhibits dealing with the Great War. His works are still regularly exhibited.
The theme of this small collection of paintings and watercolors by Francois Flameng, is that of the Landscapes of War. Flameng was a consummate combat illustrator and produced many realistic scenes of warfare and attacks across No-Man's Land. But it is his work depicting the ravages of warfare that is most unique. Bombed and cratered landscapes, towns and villages left in ruins, destroyed factories, bridges, churches and convents, the desolate criss-crossing of trenches and barricades, the far-off explosions of an artillery duel or combat engagement among the hills and forests of rural France, these are subjects which Fameng treats with a unique skill and talent.
Undoubtedly paintings of this subject matter were primarily intended to forge determination and patriotic feelings by depicting the savage and inhuman destructiveness of the enemy, by showing what ravages had been inflicted on the sacred soil of France. There is also a fascination with these scenes of desolation, for consider : at the beginning of the 20th century people were not as innured to scenes of man-made destruction as we are now. Even Napoleanic warfare of 100 years peviously , while conducted on an epic scale, did not cause such devastation as was witnessed during the Great War.
It must also be said that not all of his contempoary colleagues were enamoured of Flameng's subject matter. Some critics thought his scenes of embattled landscapes to be little more than techically competant watercolors with lots of smoke and some bright flashes added. There were no heroically charging figures or flags a waving, and therefore they did not meet the approval of those who preferred classical paintings of military glory.
But in the end it is work such as Flameng's which has endured and stood the test of time and veracity. His paintings and watercolors are both worthy artistic achievments in their own right and historically valuable documentation about the true face of the Great War.
"And when we had finished, we climbed out into the open again to find François Flameng, with his fresh face and cheery air, his blue trench helmet on his head, and a pipe in the corner of his mouth, painting the villa. The French officers of our party were delighted to see him. There was much handshaking and friendly chaff, and we had the honour of being introduced to the painter.
It seems that M. Flameng has permission to go where he likes and to paint whatever pleases his eye. Since the beginning of the War he has been busy in this way, and there is no one better known in trench and camp than this distinguished and joyous personage. It was a great and a very unexpected pleasure to see him at work."
from the book 'The Scene of the War', by V.C. Scott O'Connor, 1917
See also the section of combat illustrations by Francois Flameng : 'Images of War'
The Landscapes of War
To Combat Illustrations by Francois Flameng
'Images of War'
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