American Art in the Shadow of World War I

May 17 - August 7, 2016

When war erupted in Europe in the summer of 1914, few people foresaw the scale and duration of the carnage. But civilization itself soon seemed, for some, on the brink of collapse. Worldwide military and civilian casualties totaled upwards of 38 million by the signing of the Armistice over four years later.


The unimaginable horrors deeply affected many artists. American Art in the Shadow of World War I surveyed the museum’s holdings from the years leading up to, during, and immediately following the so-called Great War. Whether part of the debate about U.S. intervention or as combatants themselves, for example, the conflict touched American artists in a variety of ways.


This exhibition examined a diverse group of eighteen photographs and works on paper against the backdrop of the war. The photographer Lewis Hine, who was stationed in Paris with the Red Cross in 1918, chronicled relief efforts and army bases. Henry Varnum Poor made drawings and watercolors of the French countryside and of his fellow soldiers. Etchings by servicemen John Taylor Arms, Kerr Eby, and J. André Smith are also presented in the exhibition. Artist-illustrators such as James Montgomery Flagg and Joseph Pennell created government-sponsored posters to stir up support and patriotic fervor. Additional works from John Singer Sargent and Morton Livingston Schamberg, among others, open onto concomitant anxieties and societal changes during the era.


Organized by the Palmer Museum of Art.