World War I art exhibit makes stop at Nashville

John Singer Sargent (1856–1925). Gassed, 1919. Oil on canvas, 90 1/2 x 240 in. Imperial War Museums, London, England. Photo © IWM Imperial War Museums, Art.IWM ART 1460

NASHVILLE, Tenn. _ World War I and American Art, the first major exhibition to examine how American artists reacted to the First World War, opens at Nashville’s Frist Center for the Visual Arts on October 6.

Works by more than 70 artists, including George Bellows, Marsden Hartley, Childe Hassam, Georgia O’Keeffe, Horace Pippin and John Singer Sargent, represent a pivotal chapter in the history of American art.

Timed to coincide with the centennial of the entry of the U.S. into the war, the exhibition organized by the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) Philadelphia, revisits a critical period in history through a wide variety of artistic responses, ranging from patriotic to dissenting. Garnering acclaim from outlets such as Forbes, The New York Times, and PBS NewsHour, the exhibition and its central themes of how artists respond to geopolitical turmoil is strikingly relevant today. American artists were vital to the culture of the war and the shaping of public opinion in several ways. Some developed propaganda posters promoting U.S. involvement, while others made daring anti-war drawings, paintings, and prints. Some worked as official war artists embedded with troops and others designed camouflage or took surveillance photographs.

The exhibition features many high-profile loans from both private and public collections, including most importantly Sargent’s monumental tableau Gassed (Imperial War Museums, London), which has been seen in the U.S. only once before (in 1999). “Working as an official war artist for the British government, Sargent witnessed the aftermath of a German mustard gas attack on British soldiers. He represented the harrowing scene on an epic canvas measuring about 7½ x 20 feet,” says Frist Center curator Trinita Kennedy. “Our presentation of the painting and the exhibition as a whole will be enriched by a lecture on opening day entitled ‘Mr. Sargent Goes to War’ by Richard Ormond, the artist’s great-nephew and a renowned scholar based in London.”

Childe Hassam (1859–1935). Early Morning on the Avenue in May 1917, 1917. Oil on canvas, 30 1/8 x 36 1/8 in. Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts, Bequest of Candace C. Stimson, 1944.20. Photo: Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover/Art Resource, NY

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