Heeding the call from artist Charles Dana Gibson to “Draw 'til it hurts,” hundreds of leading American artists galvanized public interest in the Great War (1914–1918). Although the United States participated as a direct combatant in World War I from 1917 to 1918, the riveting posters, cartoons, fine art prints, and drawings on display chronicle this massive international conflict from its onset through its aftermath.
Gibson, a preeminent illustrator, led the federal government's Division of Pictorial Publicity, a unit of the Committee on Public Information. The Division focused on promoting recruitment, bond drives, home front service, troop support, and camp libraries. Many images advocated for American involvement in the war and others encouraged hatred of the German enemy. In less than two years, the Division's 300 artists produced more than 1,400 designs, including some 700 posters.
The works chosen for this exhibition reflect the focus of wartime art on patriotic and propaganda messages—by government-supported as well as independent and commercial artists. They include James Montgomery Flagg (best known for his portrayal of Uncle Sam), Wladyslaw Benda, George Bellows, Joseph Pennell, and William Allen Rogers. In contrast, such artists as Maurice Becker, Kerr Eby, and Samuel J. Woolf, drew on their personal experiences to depict military scenes on the front lines as well as the traumatic treatment of conscientious objectors. And finally, cartoonists offered both scathing criticism and gentle humor, as shown in Bud Fisher's comic strip Mutt and Jeff.
Photography also provided essential communication during the First World War. The selected images detail the service of soldiers, nurses, journalists, and factory workers from the home front to the trenches. American Red Cross photographs by Lewis Hine and others employ artful documentation to capture the challenges of recovery and rebuilding in Europe after the devastation of war.
All works in the exhibition are from the collections of the Prints and Photographs Division.