Weekender

‘American Art in the Shadow of World War I’ showcases artists’ perceptions of war

James Montgomery Flagg’s “I Want You” color lithograph poster from 1917 will be on display in the Palmer Museum of Art’s “American Art in the Shadow of World War I” exhibit.
James Montgomery Flagg’s “I Want You” color lithograph poster from 1917 will be on display in the Palmer Museum of Art’s “American Art in the Shadow of World War I” exhibit. Photo provided

The Palmer Museum of Art at Penn State will showcase 18 different artworks as part of the “American Art in the Shadow of World War I” exhibit from Tuesday to Aug. 7.

The exhibit is designed to showcase how American artists stationed around the world during World War I — particularly in Europe — perceived its development from the first open conflict of the war in 1914 until its end in 1918.

The exhibit, which was organized by curator of American art for the Palmer Museum, Adam Thomas, also includes the work of American artists involved in foreign government-commissioned pieces. The exhibition also showcases the work of American artists prior to, during and after World War I, as well as how these artists adapted their styles in response to the war.

“I hope visitors get a sense of some of the various ways in which artists engaged with, and were affected by, the war,” Thomas said.

“American Art in the Shadow of World War I” includes some of the works of photographer Lewis Hine, who in 1918 was stationed with the Red Cross in France; the etchings of servicemen John Taylor Arms and Kerr Eby; and watercolors of the French countryside by Henry Varnum Poor, to name a few.

Hine, an acclaimed American photographer, first gained public attention for his work on immigrants arriving at Ellis Island and showcasing their sweatshop-like living and working conditions in 1904. Hine, who was born in Oshkosh, Wis., in 1874, worked with the Red Cross in France, Bosnia, Croatia, Greece and Macedonia throughout World War I. He also gained significant recognition for his work photographing the construction of the Empire State Building and its conditions for blue-collar workers.

“American Art in the Shadow of World War I” also showcases a change in attitude among Americans from the beginning of the war to 1917 when the U.S. became involved through martial action. One artist, James Montgomery Flagg, expresses the shift in popular opinion about U.S. involvement in the war through his iconic 1917 “I Want You” lithograph poster. Flagg’s poster shows the shift from isolationism in early stages of the war to a more active role outside of European trade. His poster would became a staple of World War I and would even be used in World War II.

The United States, though not involved in the conflict from the beginning was significantly affected by the war through trade and diplomacy. By the time the war broke out, when Austria-Hungary mobilized against Serbia and Germany against France, the United States had not yet declared a side. According to the United States Office of the Historian, after the attacks on civilian and merchant ships by German U-boats, President Woodrow Wilson brought his declaration of war before Congress on April 4, 1917.

By the end of World War I, 17 million people had been killed and 21 million wounded. By 1918, the war had also brought down the last two absolute monarchies, Germany and Russia. The Treaty of Versailles in 1919, along with the establishment of the League of Nations, would play a vital role in the Russian Revolution and the events leading up to World War II.

IF YOU GO

  • What: “American Art in the Shadow of World War I” exhibit
  • When: Tuesday-Aug. 7
  • Where: Palmer Museum of Art, University Park
  • Info: palmermuseum.psu.edu
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