Picturing Conflict: the Arts of War
Pte. Martin's Sketchbook

Sketch of a ‘bombing raid'
21 April 1917. From a sketchbook belonging to Private Francis P. Martin, Royal Engineers Signal Service,. Martin was a professional artist before and after the war.
From 'Next of Kin' exhibition
© National Museums Scotland

ENQUIRIES: 

  • Why was there such a huge market for visual images of the war? Why do you think Pte. Martin made this sketch? Where do you think he made it? Do you think it was done on the spot? Why?

  • The definition of 'war art' also includes artefacts made by soldiers whilst serving abroad, and during periods of convalescence. How is this type of 'war art' different to the sketch by Pte. Martin?

  • Do you think official War Artists were allowed to paint whatever they wanted? Why?

How did the war stimulate a demand for visual images?

On 21 April 1917, Pte. Francis Martin, Royal Engineers Signal Service, made this pencil sketch of a ‘bombing raid’ in France – an attack on enemy trenches using grenades. His drawing captures the sense of drama in this surprise attack, as seen from the perspective of someone involved in the action.

The desire to keep a record of the varied experiences of war was one shared by many serving men. Although photography was not officially allowed, many soldiers took with them the newly available pocket or 'vest' cameras. Sketchbooks – which also fitted easily in pockets or rucksacks – were useful in staving off boredom and filling the long intervals of time between trench duties.

For Pte. Martin – who was a professional artist before and after the war – sketches like this one were a way of storing visual memories, and ideas perhaps, for future paintings and other commercial ventures. 

Artwork connected with the war was hugely popular on the home front: from posters, prints and advertisements, mass-produced postcards and illustrated magazines, to shop window displays and organised exhibitions of drawings, paintings and photographs.

There were no live news programmes such as we have today, and people were constantly hungry for any images – as well as news – of the conflict. They wanted to be able to visualise where their loved ones were.  

The War Artists scheme employed many men who were both professional artists and serving soldiers to make visual records of the war for wider public consumption; these were sometimes produced under difficult and dangerous conditions.

The first official war artist, appointed in May 1916, was Muirhead Bone. He was sent to France where he made many charcoal drawings of the Somme. They provided the public with their first view of the tank – a revolutionary new war machine.

Bone served with Allied forces on the Western Front and, for a time, with the Navy. He spent much time in the shipyards on the Clyde in his native Glasgow – sketching and observing the construction of the great steel warships.

Another official form of war art – photography – was also commissioned by the government. Sixteen official photographers were sent to cover all fighting Fronts. Between them they took 40,000 photographs – many of which would become the most defining images of the war.

FOLLOW UP ACTIVITIES:

  • Investigate the work of Muirhead Bone. You can see his war drawings here.

    IWM: Muirhead Bone, Tanks

    Muirhead Bone, A Dead Tank

  • Look at the work of other official War Artists – such as Paul Nash and C.R.W. Nevinson – in the collection of the Imperial War Museums. What is war art? What does it include and why? What does it exclude and why? Do you think official War Artists were allowed to paint whatever they wanted? Why? Is it more useful, or less useful, than either photographs or paintings done later away from the Front Line? Look at: Dead Germans in a Trench (1918) by William Orpen, (Art.IWM ART 2955) Paths of Glory (1917) by Christopher Nevinson (Art.IWM ART 518). How was this painting by Nevinson involved in an argument about censorship?

  • How difficult was it to be an official war photographer during the First World War? How has the role changed since 1918? Is there [a] more, or [b] less demand for photojournalism today? Is it safer or more dangerous being a war photographer today? How can we be sure that war photographs are truthful?

    First World War Poetry Digital Archive

    National Library Scotland: First World War ‘Official Photographs’

    It might help you to explore some of the work of the following contemporary war artists and photographers such as:

    Peter Howson: Scottish painter and official war artist in the 1993 Bosnian Civil War

    Don McCullin: English photo-journalist

EXPLORE RELATED OBJECTS:

Filter objectsSelected tag:All objects (21)

Sketch of a ‘bombing raid'

21 April 1917. From a sketchbook belonging to Private Francis P. Martin, Royal Engineers Signal Service,.…

Autographic Vest Pocket Kodak Camera, about 1918.

This very popular pocket camera was marketed as ' the soldier's camera'.
© Redbridge Museum

Recapture of Sanctuary Wood by the Black Watch

June 1916 by W.B. Wollen R.A.
© National Museums Scotland

Poster stamps

Poster stamps designed by Frank Brangwyn and sold to raise funds for various causes. This series of stamps…

Poster stamps

Designed by Frank Brangwyn and sold to raise funds for the war.
© Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales

Poster stamps

Designed by Frank Brangwyn and sold to raise funds for the war.
© Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales

View of the Parvati temple

One of many photos taken by soldiers on and off duty during battalion tours in India ( 1st/4th Bn or 2nd/4th…

Charge of the Welsh Division at Mametz Wood, 11 July 1916

About 4,000 men from the Welsh Division were killed or wounded in this attack during the first Battle of the…

Sir Muirhead Bone

by Francis Dodd
etching (second state), 1931
NPG 3079a…

Muirhead Bone

Ready for Sea, from Building Ships portfolio, 1917.
'The Great War: Britain’s Efforts and Ideals'.
This…

Lantern slide

A view of a battlefield on the western front.
© National Museums Northern Ireland

Olive Edis

by (Mary) Olive Edis (Mrs Galsworthy)
sepia-toned matte print on photographer's card, 1918
NPG x7960…

Postcard sent by Pte William Dick

(1st Battalion Scots Guards) to his wife in November 1915. These silk embroidered cards were mass produced in…

Necklace made from glass beads and cylinders of rolled up wall paper

Made by a patient in St Fagans Red Cross VAD Hospital, as occupational therapy
© Amgueddfa Cymru - National…

William Orpen

by Sir William Newenham Montague Orpen
oil on canvas, circa 1910
NPG 5982…

Christopher Nevinson

by Barney Seale
bronze bust, 1930
NPG 5914…

Peter John Howson

by George Newson
bromide fibre print, 12 December 1994
NPG x75727…

Don McCullin

by Roger George Clark
bromide print, 12 July 1979
NPG x15110…

Stereoscope photograph

A view of signallers keeping lookout on the eve of the Somme push
(Realistic Travels Publishers, London )
©…

Autographic Vest Pocket Kodak Camera

about 1918. This very popular pocket camera was marketed as ' the soldier's camera' .
© Redbridge Museum