The Great War In Portraits
27 February – 5 June 2014
Rather than focusing on the military history of the War, this exhibition is the first to examine the conflict through portraits of those involved.
From soldiers to national leaders, artists and poets to workers on the home front, 80 paintings, photographs, sculpture, films and drawings illustrate the human experience of the First World War.
While heads of state are captured in austere formal portraiture, an underwhelming press photograph of Gavrilo Princip, reveals the 19-year-old student whose assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand on 28 June 1914 actually precipitated the conflict.
Power-portraits of Haig, Blumer, Foch, Hindenburg are emblematic of the new found status enjoyed by military leaders during this period, while Victoria Cross holders, medal-winners, heroes and aces are shown alongside casualties, the disfigured, prisoners of war and those shot at dawn for cowardice.
Iconic portraits of poet, writer and soldier Wilfred Owen and his mentor Siegfried Sassoon are joined by that of Winston Churchill, as the display examines the war from the perspective of a range of social classes, as well as across the rest of Europe and the Commonwealth.
A contrasted pairing of British and German films devoted to the Battle of the Somme have never previously seen together, while a photograph by Jules Gervais Courtellemont depicting a deserted, battle-scarred landscape is the only work in the exhibition not to depict people, making it instead a portrait of absence.
Other highlights include German expressionist masterpieces by Lovis Corinth, Max Beckmann and Ludwig Kirchner, exhibited here together for the first time, shown alongside Harold Gillies' rarely seen photographs documenting facially injured soldiers from the Royal College of Surgeons.