Artists of the Great War
Broken bodies and military hospitals
The Great War remains Australia’s worst conflict in terms of casualties—of the 416,809 men who enlisted, over 60,000 were killed and 156,000 were wounded. With unprecedented numbers of young men injured, the role of the Army Medical Corps and the Australian Army Nursing Service was crucial. Of the artists represented in this exhibition, Rupert Bunny, George Coates, Tom Roberts and Arthur Streeton served during the war as hospital orderlies, Iso Rae volunteered as a nurse with the British Red Cross, and Daryl Lindsay became a medical illustrator at the Queen’s Hospital, Sidcup.
Bunny depicts the often tense, quiet atmosphere of a French military hospital in his painting, Waiting to be X-rayed 1915. Streeton’s oil sketch The ward c 1918 shows the 3rd Australian General Hospital, Abbeville, while Coates’ First Australian wounded at Gallipoli arriving at Wandsworth Hospital 1921 is an impressive painterly commission completed after the war. Rae’s 23rd General Hospital 1915 is a quick pastel drawing, with all the immediacy of having been drawn in the field. In comparison to the sombre palette of artists on the Western Front, George Lambert’s Palestinian study, Balcony of troopers’ ward, 14th Australian General Hospital 1919, is vibrant in colour and dappled in sunlight.
Lindsay provided crucial medical illustrations for plastic surgeons repairing umprecedented facial trauma. His watercolours are incredibly intricate and clinical, graphically documenting the injuries that were unfortunately so common among soldiers fighting in the Great War.
Arthur Streeton The ward c 1918, Australian War Memorial, Canberra