The art of war: recreating the scenes of the Anzacs

'Anzac, The Landing 1915' , the famous oil on canvas by George Lambert, depicting Australian troops climbing the steep ridges and hillsides of the Gallipoli Peninsula up to Plugge's Plateau, The Sphinx, Walker's Ridge and Baby 700 on April 25, 1915. Courtesy of Australian War Memorial ART02873
'Anzac, The Landing 1915' , the famous oil on canvas by George Lambert, depicting Australian troops climbing the steep ridges and hillsides of the Gallipoli Peninsula up to Plugge's Plateau, The Sphinx, Walker's Ridge and Baby 700 on April 25, 1915. Courtesy of Australian War Memorial ART02873 Courtesy of Australian War Memor

To their left is even more hostile, vertiginous terrain that looks as though it would thwart just about any human endeavour.

There's a sort of chaos to it all - no clear path to the top, soldiers in awkward stances as they battle to grip both rifle and ridge, sometimes forced to scramble over dead and wounded men.

This is Anzac, The Landing 1915, one of the most famous pieces of Australian artwork to emerge from Gallipoli and the First World War.

One of its most remarkable features is it was painted in 1919 by official war artist George Lambert, who returned to the battlefields four years after the campaign was fought to painstakingly recreate the landscape and what he imagined the landings would have looked like.

Lambert was one of 15 official artists appointed to record the experience of Australian soldiers during the First World War.

The official scheme ended up being a masterpiece of artistic interpretation and organisation, but it came about by drawing together the pens and paintbrushes of three different men with very different skills but a similar vision.

One of those men was Will Dyson, an Australian cartoonist well established in the socialist press both at home and in London, who was watching the war unfold and felt the need to document it.

Dyson was less interested in the big battle scenes and more interested in the everyday experiences of the ordinary soldier, the working-class hero he celebrated in his cartoons.

A meeting of minds ... 'Going Over the Old Ground with B...' by Will Dyson in charcoal, brush and ink, depicting war historian Charles Bean at centre with an officer and soldier in France, 1917. Courtesy of Australian War Memorial ART02225
A meeting of minds ... 'Going Over the Old Ground with B...' by Will Dyson in charcoal, brush and ink, depicting war historian Charles Bean at centre with an officer and soldier in France, 1917. Courtesy of Australian War Memorial ART02225 Courtesy of Australian War Memor

He approached Anzac commander General William Birdwood in mid-1916 about travelling to the Western Front to make drawings that captured the Australian experience for national historical preservation, and was later given approval and an honorary rank of lieutenant, but no pay.

Australian War Memorial curator of art Anthea Gunn said Dyson arrived in France in December 1916 - just in time for the awful winter of that year.

"It was all rain, snow and mud," she said.

"He started drawing the everyday experience - not necessarily action images, but more documentary-style ... soldiers giving each other haircuts, walking through the mud.

"And there he met Charles Bean."

Bean was the second man whose pen strokes were woven into this tale.

Australia's official war correspondent, he was known for his courage and devotion to truth, detail and accuracy.

By this stage he had been with the Anzacs for more than two years and he was growing increasingly worried the folk back home in Australia would never know what had really happened in this terrible theatre of war in Europe.

Although its own federation, Australia was still at war under the banner of the British Empire - and the British press was mostly focusing on Britain.

Bean was anxious the Anzacs' story should not be lost in the fog of war.

"When Bean saw Dyson's work, he realised only soldiers could understand what was happening to other soldiers," Ms Gunn said.

"He felt Dyson really captured the essence of the soldiers' experience."

'Writing to Catch the Home Mail', pencil and wash on paper by Will Dyson, which depicts two soldiers from the 4th Australian Division sitting near billets and writing letters in the Somme, France, during the winter of 1917. Courtesy of Australian War Memorial ART02397
'Writing to Catch the Home Mail', pencil and wash on paper by Will Dyson, which depicts two soldiers from the 4th Australian Division sitting near billets and writing letters in the Somme, France, during the winter of 1917. Courtesy of Australian War Memorial ART02397 Courtesy of Australian War Memor

In May 1917, it was decided the Australian War Records Section should be created, and it was to be headed up by John Treloar, the third man of this important triumvirate.

Treloar was a former soldier and clerk, and a meticulous record keeper - and later the first director of the Australian War Memorial.

It was under Treloar's new body the official war artists would be appointed, with Dyson's the first name on the list.

The next few to be appointed were artists already in the army, who were removed from battle and assigned to the War Records Section as servants of history with brushes instead of bayonets.

The remainder were plucked from their bohemian lives in London and brought to the trenches of France, Belgium and the Middle East.

Each artist would spend three months in a particular location and had to produce at least 25 works on paper, which would then form the basis of a larger painting when they left the front.

The idea was their artworks would draw together the Australian experience from different places and battles, and would help to paint a picture of what the Anzacs did throughout the First World War.

Sometimes the artists got a lot closer to the action than they were expected to, or than they were prepared for.

A 1918 article in the Sydney Morning Herald light-heartedly recounts the experiences the previous year of artist Fred Leist, who walked many miles alongside fresh reinforcements to the front soon after his arrival, only to land in a frighteningly exposed position in the trenches.

Leist found himself in the company of Bean - who was a "positively terrifying companion" to a newcomer because he was known to walk "the most precarious regions of the front trenches with incredible confidence".

"They went ... to a place, as it turned out, where a battle had just been fought, when the so-called trench was a hurriedly scooped knee-deep gutter, affording no protection, filled with mud, and under shell-fire by a disgruntled enemy who had just been compelled to give ground," the story read.

Remarkably, no artist was killed during the First World War (although Dyson was twice wounded), and their productivity was prolific.

But there was a gap and Bean knew it - Gallipoli.

The first campaign the Anzacs had been involved in was well and truly over before the War Records Section had been created, and there was nothing on canvas to show for what had happened on that peninsula that had hoodwinked everyone who looked at it.

George Lambert, who had been appointed to paint scenes from the Middle East in 1918 - including one of the world's last great cavalry charges, at Beersheba - was re-appointed to join Bean's historical mission to Gallipoli early the following year.

Bean and his collectors of history must have been exhausted, but still they returned to the peninsula to collect and record.

Ms Gunn said even then, in the first few months after the war had finished, Bean understood the importance of what he and his band of historians and artists were doing.

He wrote a letter to Lambert to explain his mission in recreating the landings of April 25, 1915.

"He was explaining that this would be our national picture, that it would capture a moment in time," Ms Gunn said.

"He understood then that it would have this position in the Australian mind, that it would leave this legacy.

"The status that Gallipoli has now was already developing then."

 

THE COLLECTION

Charles Bean had initially envisaged the Australian War Memorial to be a great gallery of objects brought back from the First World War, including a separate section for art.

He ended up with 90 artworks that would stretch 180m end to end if all were displayed at one time.

As a result, they have never been displayed as he had intended, although some - such as Anzac, The Landing 1915 - have been on almost constant display at the memorial.

In total, the Australian War Memorial holds:

! about 1500 artworks from the official First World War art scheme

! about 7500 artworks related to the First World War, including the official scheme plus what it has acquired since from other artists, and

! about 35,000 artworks in total, from all conflicts, including a large collection of recruitment posters from Australia and other countries.

A self portrait of Australia's first official war artist, cartoonist Will Dyson. Courtesy of National Library of Australia
A self portrait of Australia's first official war artist, cartoonist Will Dyson. Courtesy of National Library of Australia Courtesy of National Library of

ARTIST PROFILE - WILL DYSON

WILL Dyson was born in Alfredton, Victoria, in September 1880 and was was the ninth of 11 children.

His first cartoon was published in the Bulletin in 1897 and, by the turn of the century, he was a regular contributor to multiple papers across Australia.

In September 1909, Dyson married Ruby Lindsay, a recognised illustrator in her own right, and together they sailed to England.

He worked first with London's New Age, later with the Labourcorrect Party paper, the Daily Herald, and the Daily Sketch.

A committed Australian nationalist, Dyson travelled to the Western Front in December 1916 and, in May 1917, he was formally appointed as the first official war artist attached to the Australian Imperial Force.

In January 1918, an exhibition of his drawings, called Australia at War: drawing on the Western Front, was held at The Leicester Galleries in London.

Dyson came back to Australia in 1919 after Ruby's death, but in 1930 returned to London, where he died in 1938, aged 57.

A self portrait of war artist George Lambert. Courtesy of National Gallery of Victoria
A self portrait of war artist George Lambert. Courtesy of National Gallery of Victoria Courtesy of National Gallery of

ARTIST PROFILE - GEORGE LAMBERT

GEORGE Lambert was born in St Petersburg, Russia, in September 1873 and emigrated to Australia in 1887 with his mother.

He studied in Sydney and Paris, before moving to London, where he exhibited at the Royal Academy between 1904 and 1911, with considerable success.

In 1917, Lambert was approached by both the Australian and Canadian governments about becoming an official war artist.

He accepted the Australian offer, which took him later that year to the Middle East, from which he produced more than 70 drawings.

Lambert was re-appointed in 1919 to travel to Gallipoli and recreate some scenes from that campaign - one of those commissioned, Anzac, The Landing 1915, is one of the most important paintings in the memorial's art collection and has been on continuous display since its opening in 1922.

Other famous paintings include The Charge of the 3rd Light Horse Brigade at the Nek, 7 August 1915, and The Charge of the Australian Light Horse at Beersheba, 1917.

He died suddenly in Cobbitty, west of Sydney, in May 1930, aged 56.


Container exchange scheme under way

Container exchange scheme under way

Recycling is coming to the Maranoa.

Precious hay supply destroyed as fire tears through stables

Precious hay supply destroyed as fire tears through stables

Dalby police investigate fire in stables which destroyed hay supply

The quick and the long

The quick and the long

Roma's Dachshund Day is coming up, just in time for school holidays.

Local Partners