By remembering do we learn from our past?
Manchester Art Gallery
Friday 1 July 2016–Sunday 26 March 2017
This display of art of the First World War from Manchester Art Gallery’s collection commemorates the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. Following two years of stalemate, on 1 July 1916 the British and French armies attempted to break through the German lines on the Western Front in the valley of the River Somme in Northern France. What followed was one of the bloodiest battles in history. By the end of the campaign on 1 November, the Allies had gained just six miles of German territory and Europe had lost more than 1.5 million men. The inadequacies of patriotism were starkly revealed.
The First World War was the first conflict to produce a wealth of works by British artists who fought on its battlefields and experienced the devastation at first-hand. These official war artists were selected and commissioned by the government to create a visual account of the war. They recorded events both on the battlefield and behind the front lines for information, documentation and propaganda purposes. They expressed the grim, hard, and mechanical character of modern warfare. Their art still affects our perception of the First World War 100 years later and helps us to understand the reality of war today.
The exhibition title is borrowed from novelist Robert Graves’ haunting memoir of his time in the trenches on the Somme. Writing about his traumatic experience allowed him to lay his memories to rest, so he would never need to think of the war again.
So what does it mean when we are asked to observe and remember the Battle of the Somme? By remembering do we learn from our past?