April 7, 2016 "World War I: American Artists View the Great War" Exhibition Opens May 7
First in Series of Library Events to Mark World War I Centennial
Press Contact: Donna Urschel (202) 707-1639
Public Contact: Katherine Blood (202) 707-4622; Sara Duke (202) 707-3630
Contact: View the exhibition online.
An exhibition showing how American artists galvanized public interest in World War I will open next month at the Library of Congress.
“World War I: American Artists View the Great War” will open on Saturday, May 7 in the Graphic Arts Galleries on the ground floor of the Library’s Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First St. S.E., Washington, D.C. The exhibition is free and open to the public Monday through Saturday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. It will remain open for a year, closing on May 6, 2017.
The exhibition is made possible by the Swann Foundation for Caricature and Cartoon, and is the first in a series of events the Library is planning in connection with the centennial of the United States’ entry into World War I. An online version of the exhibition will be available on the opening date at loc.gov/exhibits/.
Drawn from the Library’s Prints and Photographs Collections, the exhibition will feature 25 fine prints, drawings, cartoons, posters and photographs. An additional 70 photographs will be shown in a monitor slide show. The works on display reflect the focus of wartime art on patriotic and propaganda messages—by government-supported as well as independent and commercial artists. In the fall, an exhibition rotation will occur and 27 new items will be placed on display. A total of 40 artists will be represented.
Many of the artists featured in the exhibition worked for the federal government’s Division of Pictorial Publicity, a unit of the Committee on Public Information. Led by Charles Dana Gibson, a preeminent illustrator, the division focused on promoting recruitment, bond drives, home-front service, troop support and camp libraries. Many images advocated for American involvement in the war and others encouraged hatred of the German enemy. In less than two years, the division’s 300 artists produced more than 1,400 designs, including some 700 posters.
Heeding the call from Gibson to “Draw ‘til it hurts,” hundreds of leading American artists created works about the Great War (1914–1918). Although the United States participated as a direct combatant in World War I from 1917 to 1918, the riveting posters, cartoons, fine art prints and drawings on display chronicle this massive international conflict from its onset through its aftermath.
Among those who heeded the call were James Montgomery Flagg (best known for his portrayal of Uncle Sam), Wladyslaw Benda, George Bellows, Joseph Pennell and William Allen Rogers. In contrast, such artists as Maurice Becker, Kerr Eby and Samuel J. Woolf drew on their personal experiences to depict military scenes on the front lines as well as the traumatic treatment of conscientious objectors. Finally, cartoonists offered both scathing criticism and gentle humor, as shown in Bud Fisher’s comic strip “Mutt and Jeff.”
Photography also provided essential communication during the First World War. The selected images detail the service of soldiers, nurses, journalists and factory workers from the home front to the trenches. American Red Cross photographs by Lewis Hine and others employ artful documentation to capture the challenges of recovery and rebuilding in Europe after the devastation of war.
Katherine Blood and Sara Duke from the Prints and Photographs Division at the Library of Congress led the division’s curatorial team. Betsy Nahum-Miller from the Library’s Interpretive Programs Office is the exhibition director.
The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division holds more than 15 million photographs, drawings and prints from the 15th century to the present day. International in scope, these visual collections represent a uniquely rich array of human experience, knowledge, creativity and achievement, touching on almost every realm of endeavor: science, art, invention, government and political struggle, and the recording of history. For more information, visit loc.gov/rr/print/.
The Library of Congress, the largest library in the world, holds more than 162 million items in various languages, disciplines and formats. The Library serves the U.S. Congress and the nation both on-site in its reading rooms on Capitol Hill and through its website at loc.gov.
With the most comprehensive collection of multi-format World War I holdings in the nation, the Library is a unique resource for primary source materials, education plans, public programs and on-site visitor experiences about The Great War, including exhibits, symposia and book talks.