William Orpen War Paintings & Sketches Slideshow by Dominic Lee
“Did you really believe this war would end wars?
Well the suffering, the sadness, the sorrow, the shame
The killing the dying it was all done in vain.
For Willie McBride, it all happened again
And again, and again, and again and again”
The Green Fields of France, a beautiful ballad by Eric Bogle sung here by Finbar Furey, helps one relate to the adverse effect that World War 1 had on Dublin born War Artist Major William Orpen who witnessed the slaughter of British, Allied and German soldiers who were often buried side by side with their arms and legs left sticking out of the soil.
He not only painted many of the top brass including Winston Churchill but also regular soldiers and war torn landscapes. Winston Churchill commented of his portrait “It is not the picture of a man. It is the picture of a mans soul”. This portrait was painted shortly after the disastrous battle of Gallipoli which Churchill took the blame for.
After the Armistice, Orpen served as Official Artist at the Versailles Peace Conference but he felt that the politicians had betrayed those who had fought and died on the battlefield. He completed two Peace paintings – A Conference at the Quai d’Orsay and The Signing of the Peace in the Hall of Mirrors, Versailles. But after spending several months on the third painting he blotted out “The Frocks” as he called them (Politicians & Generals) who “Won the War” and replaced them with a coffin draped in the Union Jack guarded by the ghosts of two comrades dressed in blankets and rags.
The Imperial War Museum refused to pay Orpen for his final painting but accepted it several years later when Orpen agreed to paint out the two ghosts and angels.
The original and the final paintings are part of this slideshow.
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