Gassed by John Singer Sargent

Gassed by John Singer Sargent
Gassed by John Singer Sargent

Melvyn Bragg

Last night I watched the opening episode of Melvyn Bragg’s documentary on Class and Culture. It examined the years from the coronation of George V to the end of the second world war. It examined how the various classes differed and interacted with each other, in particular at the front lines during the first world war. The programme held my attention because it kept showing paintings by one of my favourite artists of all time, the American John Singer Sargent. The programme including this one titled “Gassed”.

Mustard Gas

In 1918 the British Ministry of Information commissioned Sargent to paint a large scale piece. Th painting was for a planned hall of remembrance commemorating Anglo-American cooperation.Sargent travelled to the front in 1918. He witnessed first hand the harrowing effects of war including the aftermath of mustard gas attacks. This became the subject of this 6 meter long masterpiece.  It depicts a procession of wounded, blindfolded men, stumbling towards a dressing station.

Imperial War Museum

Sargent is better known for his beautifully executed portraits of high society figures. But he wasn’t a one trick pony. He could paint anything. “Gassed” has to be one of his finest. It’s handled with typical skill, flair and sensitivity. I’m looking forward to seeing it on my next visit to London where it hangs in the Imperial War Museum. You can see several of my own studies of Sargent’s work on my website.

You can also read a number of blog posts I’ve written about John Singer Sargent.

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