LAWRENCE – One of the richest collections of World War I era art in the country can now be found at the University of Kansas’ Spencer Art Museum through Professor Eric G. Carlson’s gift of more than 3,000 pieces.
Preceding the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, the contribution includes work that largely spans from 1914 to 1918 and focuses on graphic arts produced in France. A longtime friend of the museum, Carlson studied at Yale University, taught art history at Harvard University, Swarthmore College and most extensively at SUNY Purchase, and is a longstanding member of the International Fine Print Dealers Association.
“This gift puts us in a very special position within art museums in the United States,” said Stephen Goddard, a senior curator at the art museum who has spent more than a decade acquiring work from the World War I era. “Anyone studying the imagery of the First World War will want to visit the area to take advantage of our holdings and those at the National World War I Museum in Kansas City.”
Carlson’s gift expands on the Spencer’s already significant collection of World War I art, some of which was featured in the 2010 exhibition, “Machine in a Void: World War I & the Graphic Arts.” The museum is currently showing a portion of that collection in “Conversations XVIII: World War I.”
The contribution points to the staggering amount of graphic art that was produced during World War I. While many of the posters are well-known, the collection includes less familiar portfolios of etchings, woodcuts and lithographs, as well as illustrated books, single-sheet prints and drawings. While the donation consists primarily of graphic art, it also includes paintings, textiles and decorative arts. The art will be incorporated into curricula across multiple departments at KU.
“The remarkable events of World War I touch almost every discipline imaginable. This collection will greatly expand what we can offer our university audience. The gift also has considerable research potential with many important works that are unique, unknown or little known,” Goddard said.
Not all the art created during the World War I era was propaganda or served nationalistic purposes, some of it speaks to the horrific nature of war and the dramatic change in warfare in the early part of the 20th century.
“A significant amount of the imagery produced expressed grave doubt about the war effort or focused on the human toll, the plight of the ‘war horses,’ and the devastating aspects of mechanized war,” Goddard said.
Of the more than 200 artists included in the gift some of the most notable are Guy Arnoux, Eduardo García Benito, Georges d’Ostoya, André Devambez, Raoul Dufy, André Dunoyer de Segonzac, René Georges Hermann-Paul, Emile Laboureur, Auguste-Louis Lepère, Maximilien Luce, Jean-Louis Forain, Louis Raemaekers, Pierre Roche, Théophile Alexandre Steinlen, and Jean Veber.
Among the collection’s highlights are:
• Félix Vallotton’s portfolio of wood cuts from “C’est la guerre!” (This is War!)
• More than 60 watercolor paintings from infantryman and artist Maurice Le Poitevin
• A group of Camille Bellanger’s panoramic landscape drawings
• Paintings by André Devambez
• Muirhead Bone’s “Building Ships” portfolio
• Artist and wartime nurse Olga Bing’s portfolio reproducing drawings of medical treatments.
The art museum is seeking grant funding to process, photograph and catalog the gift. Once finished, the collection will be shared through exhibitions, incorporated into the KU curriculum and made available for research.
Images available upon request.