Artist at War

Artist at War

Artist at War

Artist at War

Excerpt

Back from Brazil, where I had completed with Hélène Sardeau a mural with accompanying bas-relief for the National Library of Rio de Janeiro, I went down to Washington in January 1943 to see if I could find some way in which I might participate in the war effort. Alas! Men of my age are of little use in war, outside of that narrow range in which they have been specializing for thirty years. General Osborn, of the Special Service Division, with whom I talked, showed me a directive of November 13, 1942, from General Somervell, one paragraph of which requested the Chief of Engineers "to form a select group of artists and dispatch them to active theaters to paint war scenes." With his permission I showed it to the Assistant Secretary of War, Mr. John J. McCloy, Jr., who asked me to prepare him a memorandum on the subject. This he turned over to General Reybold, Chief of Engineers. I was asked by him to organize and chairman the War Department Art Advisory Committee, which was to carry out the purposes of General Somervell's directive. Within a few months our Committee, which consisted of myself, Dr. David Finley of the National Gallery, Edward B. Rowan of the Section of Fine Arts, Henry Varnum Poor, Fine Arts Commissioner, Reeves Lewenthal of the Associated American Artists, and John E. Steinbeck, had drafted a program, and selected and dispatched to twelve overseas fronts some forty-two artists: twenty-three in the armed forces and nineteen civilians. The choice was not always easy. Our Committee insisted on a background, a sine qua non, of able draughtsmanship, of artists who could do action drawings. But we insisted always on something more. What we wanted was illustration plus: forty-two Goyas, Delacroix, and Daumiers. That was our ideal. We knew our standard must fall something short. And there were other qualifications. The artist must be physically fit and emotionally . . .

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