Women Artists and the Representation of the First World War

By Speck, Catherine | Journal of Australian Studies, March 1999 | Go to article overview

Women Artists and the Representation of the First World War


Speck, Catherine, Journal of Australian Studies


The tradition of male artists `going to war' to represent key events of nation is well established. A stroll through the Australian War Memorial(1) in Canberra confirms that a number of well-known artists were employed in an official capacity during the first and second world wars to record their nation in conflict. Official war artists such as Will Dyson, Arthur Streeton, George Lambert, Will Dargie, Ivor Hele and Sali Hermann have, in their paintings and drawings, shaped the representation of nation and the role of its citizens during both wars.(2) In works such as George Lambert's The Road to Jericho (1918) and Ivor Hele's Study for the Disembarkation from Greece (1941) the landscape and men engage in some form of implied action, as Ian Bum has so eloquently established.(3) Out of this a defining characteristic of the nation emerges. Is there a place, then, for women in this doubly masculine-constructed culture of `war' seen through the eyes of the `war artist'? A number of Australian women have worked as war artists, but in the first world war it was in an unofficial capacity. This article focuses on women and their visual responses to the events they experienced.

War is a regrettable state for any nation to be confronted with; nevertheless participation in its events is considered the highest act of citizenship, and one open only to citizens whose domain is the public sphere. A long tradition of philosophical thought underpins this differential construction of citizenship, which sees men operating in the public realm and women in the private realm.(4)

When the Australian government came, somewhat belatedly, to appoint official artists it was not the women artists who were resident in England or France to whom the commissions went, but to the expatriate male artists.(5) In August 1916 the official war art scheme was launched by Will Dyson who, in a spirit of patriotism, offered his services to Australia as a war artist. After much bureaucratic shuffling between the Australian High Commission and the British War Office, permission was finally granted in December 1916 for Dyson to spend extended periods of time at the front in France.

The usual complaints were made about the calibre of those few appointed, with expatriate artists in London querying both the low number and the quality of appointees. Dyson was not paid initially, but later at one pound per day. Arthur Streeton proposed his own list of eligible appointees, including a woman: Mrs Coates, who is better known as Dora Meeson.(6) There were a number of women in England and France, including Thea Proctor, Hilda Rix, Bessie Davidson, Jessie Traill and Rose MacPherson (Margaret Preston). They were overseas because this was an era when many women travelled to the perceived centres of culture with the aim of `finishing their education in London or Paris, their object being to get into salons or the Royal Academy'.(7) However, the lack of official consideration given to the possibility of appointing any of these women betrays a deeper gendered division of labour of artists in wartime. Male artists who received appointment joined the AIF, but there was no corresponding women's service to which women artists could be attached. This was enough to preclude women as artists of war.

Dyson maintained that his drawings of `Australian soldiers ... would be suggested ... by personal contact' with `our men in their European settings'.(8) He believed that artists actually needed to experience trench warfare, as Gavin Fry and Anne Gray have pointed out:

   The most important feature of the commissioning programme was that the
   artists were able to experience at first hand the conditions and atmosphere
   of front line warfare. It was believed that only through personal contact
   with the men and an intimate knowledge of the devastation of the
   battlefield could the artists paint convincingly of the war.(9)

In effect, this meant that there was no place for the legitimate or official representation of these events by Australian women. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Women Artists and the Representation of the First World War
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.