Brushes with War: Art From The Front Line

brushes with war

Lucy visits a new exhibition commemorating the Armistice of 1918


Brushes with War; Art from the Front Line 14-18 is a major, new temporary exhibition to commemorate the centenary of the ending of the First World War. On now at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, it features over 200 original drawings and paintings by troops from both sides of the conflict.

Much of the art here is in the private collection of Joel Parkinson, who owns and directs the World War History & Art Museum in Ohio, USA.

“I’m honoured to share my collection, especially at such a poignant time as we approach the centenary of the Great War,” Joel told us.


Rainbow Machine Gunners 1918 John Geiszel

How It All Began

“Both my grandfathers served in the American Expeditionary Forces in France during the war,” Joel explained. “Lieutenant John H. Geiszel, a fellow officer in my grandad’s company, painted him riding a horse and leading a machine gun squad through barbed wire to the front at night. I grew up listening to my grandad’s war stories and admiring that painting, which I would later inherit.

“The idea for Brushes with War came to me when I bought a second painting by British Gunner F.J. Mears, of several soldiers silhouetted at night as they walked across duckboards in a muddy, shell-ploughed No Man’s Land. I realised I had never seen other works by the actual troops who served. My quest to acquire original art by the soldiers of World War One began.”


Rats, 1916
F.J. Mears, British


Different From Official War Images

This isn’t the image of WW1 as presented by official propaganda. The men who drew and painted these images fought on the front line, were wounded in action, and survived aerial dogfights. The pictures show life in the trenches and on the battlefield, in hospitals, and prisoner-of-war camps. And they also show the war in the air, and at sea.

Some works are small, as troops had to work with the tools they had access to, such as a pencil and postcard. They’re very personal, often capturing views, friends, and snapshots of quiet moments in the day-to-day routine. And they reflect real life for servicemen – which, in the trenches, could be boring and monotonous, as well as extremely tense before occasional bursts of action.


Wounded Smokes Cigarette, 1918
Flor White, American


Brothers In Arms

One thing I loved about this exhibition was that so many nationalities are represented – the artwork here is by troops from Germany and Austria, as well as Britain, America and France, Belgium, Canada, Australia and Russia.

The exhibition is set out chronologically, so you get a real sense of how the war progressed – the initial patriotic fervour, settling down to the hardship and monotony of the trenches, and ending with horror and sadness at such enormous loss of life.

There are chinks of light in the darkness, too, such as the drawings made by recuperating servicemen who, thanks to their glamorous nurses, don’t want to get better!


A Shelter in a Trench, 1915
Robert Lortac, French


Poignant poetry

As you walk around this very moving exhibition, you’ll see quotes from the war poets on the walls, including this one from Dundee ‘fighter-writer’ Joseph Lee, from his poem, ‘German Prisoners’ (1917).


“I knew we had suffered as each other

And could have grasped your hand and cried, ‘My brother’.


Brushes with War; Art from the Front Line is on now at Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery, Glasgow. Until 6th January, 2019. Tickets £7/concessions £5/Under-16s free. 0141 276 9599

Mon-Thurs and Saturday – 10am to 5pm

Friday and Sunday – 11am to 5pm


Fiction Editor Lucy is always on the look-out for the very best short stories, poems and pocket novels. As well as sourcing enjoyable content, she enjoys working with our established contributors, encouraging new talent, and celebrating 150 years of 'Friend' fiction!