Trove of World War I Artwork Gifted to Spencer Museum of Art as 100th Anniversary of the Historic Event Approaches
LAWRENCE, KS, August 11, 2014 – One of the richest collections of World War I-era art in the country can now be found at the University of Kansas’s Spencer Art Museum thanks to Professor Eric G. Carlson’s gift of more than 3,000 objects.
The collection comes to the Spencer just as the world begins to observe the 100th anniversary of that epic and tragic conflict. In July and August of 1914, seven countries declared War against one another, igniting the powder-keg that was Europe following the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand. Ultimately the war would drag on for four years, cost an estimated 16 million lives, and topple four monarchies. But the toll of the war, and its further-reaching implications, might best be understood through images rather than numbers.
“This gift puts us in a very special position within art museums in the United States,” said Stephen Goddard, a senior curator at the art museum who has spent more than a decade acquiring work from the World War I era. “Anyone studying the imagery of the First World War will want to visit the area to take advantage of our holdings and those at the National World War I Museum in Kansas City.”
Objects from Carlson’s collections span the years 1914 to 1918, and focus on graphic arts produced in France. Seven works from the vast collection are now on view in the Spencer’s Empire of Things gallery, offering viewers an opportunity to see some of the most prized works in a collection that has been Carlson’s lifetime passion. A longtime friend of the museum, Carlson studied at Yale University, taught art history at Harvard University, Swarthmore College and most extensively at SUNY Purchase and is a longstanding member of the International Fine Print Dealers Association.
His contribution points to the staggering amount of graphic art that was produced during World War I. While many of the posters are well known, the collection includes less familiar portfolios of etchings, woodcuts and lithographs, as well as illustrated books, single-sheet prints and drawings. While the donation consists primarily of graphic art, it also includes paintings, textiles and decorative arts. The art will be incorporated into curricula across multiple departments at KU.
“The remarkable events of World War I touch almost every discipline imaginable. This collection will greatly expand what we can offer our university audience. The gift also has considerable research potential with many important works that are unique, unknown or little known,” Goddard said.
Not all the art created during the World War I era was propaganda or served nationalistic purposes; some of it speaks to the horrific nature of war and the dramatic change in warfare in the early part of the 20th century.
“A significant amount of the imagery produced expressed grave doubt about the war effort or focused on the human toll, the plight of the ‘war horses,’ and the devastating aspects of mechanized war,” Goddard said.
The art museum is seeking grant funding to process, photograph and catalogue the gift. Once finished, the collection will be shared through exhibitions, incorporated into the KU curriculum, and made available for research.
Of the more than 200 artists included in the gift some of the most notable are Guy Arnoux, Eduardo García Benito, Georges d’Ostoya, André Devambez, Raoul Dufy, André Dunoyer de Segonzac, René Georges Hermann-Paul, Emile Laboureur, Auguste-Louis Lepère, Maximilian Luce, Jean-Louis Forain, Louis Raemaekers, Pierre Roche, Théophile Alexandre Steinlen, and Jean Veber.
Among the collection’s highlights are:
- Félix Vallotton’s portfolio of wood cuts from “C’est la guerre!” (This is War!)
- More than 60 watercolor paintings from infantryman and artist Maurice Le Poitevin
- A group of Camille Bellanger’s panoramic landscape drawings
- Paintings by André Devambez
- Muirhead Bone’s “Building Ships” portfolio
- Artist and wartime nurse Olga Bing’s portfolio reproducing drawings of medical treatments
Works currently on view in the Museum’s Empire of Things gallery include:
- Bombardement de Dunkerque (The Bombardment of Dunkirk), 1917, oil on canvas, Gift of Professor Eric Gustav Carlson,T2014.091
- Joseph-Félix Bouchor, Untitled (portrait of an aviator), 1915, oil on panel, Gift of Professor Eric Gustav Carlson, T2014.106
- André Devambez, Untitled (soldiers in bomb craters), 1917, oil on illustration board, Gift of Professor Eric Gustav Carlson,T2014.125
- Pierre Albert Leroux, Untitled (wounded soldier in a trench), 1917, oil on canvas, Gift of Professor Eric Gustav Carlson,T2014.129
- Maximilien Luce, Untitled (wounded soldiers arriving in Paris), 1917, oil on illustration board, oil on illustration board, Gift of Professor Eric Gustav Carlson, T2014.126
- Fernand A. Laval, Arc de Triomphe. Les Fêtes de la Victoire, Paris, 1919. (Triumphal Arch. Victory Celebrations, Paris, 1919), 1919, oil on illustration board, Gift of Professor Eric Gustav Carlson, T2014.105
- Gairaud, 1914–15—etc., à Ch. O. Galtier (1914–15 —etc., dedicated to Ch. O. Galtier), 1914, oil on canvas, Gift of Professor Eric Gustav Carlson, T2014.115