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Paths Of Glory Painting Analysis Essay

description

Object description

image: The corpses of two dead British soldiers lying face down in the mud among barbed wire. Their helmets and rifles lie in the mud next to them.

Label

In one of Nevinson's most famous paintings, we see the bodies of two dead British soldiers behind the Western Front. The title is a quote from 'Elegy Written In A Country Church-Yard' by Thomas Gray: 'The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow'r, And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave, Awaits alike th'inevitable hour. The paths of glory lead but to the grave.' Whereas the poet reflects on bodies dead and buried in a church-yard, the so-called 'Paths of Glory' have led these soldiers to death in a wasteland. 'Paths of Glory' was famously censored by the official censor of paintings and drawings in France, Lieutenant - Colonel A N Lee. His concern presumably being the representation of the rotting and bloated British corpses at this stage in the war. The decision was confirmed three months before the opening of his exhibition at the Leicester Galleries in 1918 but Nevinson still included the painting with a brown paper strip across the canvas, blatantly inscribed with the word 'censored'. As a result, Nevinson was reprimanded for exhibiting a censored image and for the unauthorised use of the word ‘censored’ in a public space. Predictably, the stunt created the publicity Nevinson desired. The painting was purchased by the Museum during the course of the exhibition.

Label

The title is a quote from Thomas Gray’s ‘Elegy Written in a Country Church-yard’: The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow'r, And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave, Awaits alike th'inevitable hour. The paths of glory lead but to the grave.' In CRW Nevinson’s image, not even the grave appears a possibility: the two dead British soldiers lying among the remnants of a recent offensive have been forgotten and their bodies are bloated as they slowly begin to decompose. This confrontational image was famously censored only three months before it was to be exhibited in 1918. Nevinson still included the painting in the show, with a band of brown paper across the canvas inscribed with the word 'censored'.

Label

C R W Nevinson, Paths of Glory (1917) Paths of Glory is among C R W Nevinson’s most famous works, completed after he was appointed an official war artist in 1917. The depiction of two dead British soldiers lying face down in the mud, as well as the loaded title, meant it was not passed for exhibition. However, Nevinson displayed it partially obscured with tape bearing the word ‘Censored’. This gained the publicity he was seeking, though also a reprimand from his employers. The painting uses a more naturalistic style than some of his earlier paintings. As a disciple of futurism, Nevinson had seen the war as typifying the modern machine age and had previously used a more angular, cubist-influenced style. But his later wartime paintings often moved away from this approach.

History note

Imperial War Museum purchase under terms of Nevinson's commission with the Ministry of Information

Inscription

C.R.W. NEVINSON. 1917.

Paths of Glory is a 1917 painting by British artist Christopher Nevinson.[1] The title quotes from a line from Thomas Gray's poem Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard: "The paths of glory lead but to the grave". It is held by the Imperial War Museum in London, which describes it as "one of Nevinson's most famous paintings".[2][3]

Background[edit]

Nevinson had served as a volunteer ambulance driver with the Friends' Ambulance Service on the Western Front in the early months of the First World War, from November 1914 to January 1915, and then returned to England. He served as an orderly in the Royal Army Medical Corps in London but was invalided out in late 1915 due to rheumatic fever. During this period he painted several paintings such as La Mitrailleuse (1915) and The Doctor (1916).

He was commissioned as a war artist in 1917 and was sent to France by the British War Propaganda Bureau. He adopted a Realist style to depict the horror of the war, moved decisively away from his earlier Modernist and Vorticist styles.

Painting[edit]

The painting measures 45.7 × 60.9 centimetres (18.0 × 24.0 in). It depicts two dead British soldiers, face down in a battlefield on the Western Front. They lie unburied in a muddy landscape that is bare save for barriers of barbed wire and the detritus of war.

The painting was censored by the official censor of paintings and drawings in France, Lieutenant Colonel A N Lee, on the grounds that displaying dead bodies would hinder the war effort. Nonetheless, Nevinson included the painting in his official exhibition at the Leicester Galleries in March 1918, but the work was displayed with a brown paper strip across the bodies bearing the word "censored".[4] Nevinson was reprimanded by the War Office for exhibiting a censored image, and for using the word "censored" in public without authorisation, but obtained significant publicity, particularly as the first exhibition of official colour tinted photographs from the front (including images of actual dead bodies) opened on 4 March. The painting was bought by the Imperial War Museum direct from the exhibition, as the work had been commissioned by the Ministry of Information.

The same title was used for several books and the 1957 war film directed by Stanley Kubrick.

References[edit]

  • Nevinson’s Paths of Glory
  • Nevinson's Elegy: Paths of Glory, Charles E. Doherty, Art Journal, Vol. 51, No. 1, Uneasy Pieces (Spring, 1992), pp. 64-71
  • A Dilemma of English Modernism: Visual and Verbal Politics in the Life and Work of C.R.W. Nevinson (1889-1946), edited by Michael J. K. Walsh, University of Delaware Press, 2007, ISBN 0874139422, p.161-2
  • Paths Of Glory 1917, Google Cultural Institute

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