Sunday, May 8, 2011

John Trumbull: The death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker Hill (1786)

            John Trumbull was an Adjutant serving the 1st Connecticut regiment during the American Revolutionary war. As an Adjutant his primary job was to serve as the personal assistant to the general, and as a result he only witnessed combat, never taking part in the fighting itself. ( But during his military campaign, he graphically documented the many of the battles and events of war. Best known for his painting of the “The Declaration of Independence,” Trumbull is also famed for paintings such as “The Battle of Trenton,” and “The death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker Hill” ( Being an eyewitness at the battle of Bunker Hill, Trumbull tried to accurately and vividly summarize the key events of the battle, but at times produced a rosy picture of war. Despite the fact that Trumbull was on the American side of the war, in his painting, he depicts the battle from an almost “pro-British” perspective, clearly showing the British as the victors of the battle ( This does not show that he is a traitor, but instead that he is dedicated to the role of the artist: The depiction of the truth. The battle was described by soldiers: “And now ensued one of the greatest scenes of war that can be conceived” and as “The whole a picture and a complication of horror and importance beyond any thing that ever came to my lot to be witness to” (Burgoyne). But despite his intentions, Trumbull lacks in many areas as far as the truth of war is concerned and ends up showing war more idealistically than realistically. While he focuses on the honor and nobility of battling troops “showing respect” to one another, he ends up ignoring the chaos and sacrifice of war. Notice the harmony and balance present in the picture. The soldier in white holding the musket (middle left) is balanced by the soldier with the hat (far right). Also, the blue flag on the left seems to balance the British flag on the left. And lastly, the generals body is balanced by the dead infantryman in the foreground. Through his use of harmony, balance, and the theme of gentlemanly war, Trumbull depicts war as organized and chivalrous, making his image far from the stark reality of war.
In this oil painting, Trumbull uses “fluid brushstrokes” and “subtle glazes” painting much in the neoclassical manner of Jacques-Louis David (Columbia University Press). Expressing the determination and grit of the founders of the new American nation, Trumbull paints looks of Perseverance and dedication on the faces of the Americans. But on the other hand, if we look at the Red Coats complexions, they seem almost worried or frightened, especially in the face of Lord Rawdon (Center Right). The black smoke in the background almost sets a gloomy tone to the battle, one of despair. The main event of the painting can be seen a bit off center to the left, where the two men in white lay on the ground. American General Warren has just been wounded and is about to die, but to the left of him British Major Small is holding him in his arms, preventing a British soldier from bayoneting Warren's body (Wikipedia). This act of camaraderie shows that war at the time had not yet developed into “total war” or “modern warfare.” In this picture, we see the antique practice of gentlemanly conduct in the face of battle, something that will soon disappear as time progresses.

            At the end of this bloody battle, a total of 366 men had been killed (Wikipedia). To put that number in perspective, throughout the entire revolutionary war, a total of 7,200 men were killed (World Book). Compared to later casualty counts for war, this number would seem very small due to the fact that at the time, weapons were technologically inaccurate, unreliable, and inefficient. The primary infantry weapon used at the time was the flintlock musket which required 13 steps to load, malfunctioned in the rain, and a soldier could only fire one shot every twenty seconds (The Military Channel). The musket was also highly inaccurate due to the fact that it was uncommon to “rifle” the inside of a gun barrel at the time. Cannons had were also inefficient, requiring up to 14 men to operate, and fired very slowly due to the fact that the barrel had to be cleaned between each firing. (World Book) (Military Channel). Guns were so inefficient that in medium to close quarters, men would use their bayonets instead of firing their guns, a tactic that won the British this battle (Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati). Due to a lack of decent weapons and technological advancement, the Battle of Bunker hill and the Revolutionary War as a whole, yielded relatively low casualties for both the British and Americans.

Thure de Thulstrup: Battle of Spotsylvania (1887)

          In the time between the Revolutionary war and the Civil War advancements in both science and engineering were made producing better, quicker, and more accurate weapons. One such innovation of the time was the rifling of weapons. Becoming common practice on muskets, the process of rifling involved adding grooves to the inside of a weapon, putting a spin on the bullet, similar to the way a quarterback spirals a football (“Rifle”). This technique allowed soldiers to fire from an unheard of 800 yards and to fire these shots with surprising accuracy. (“Rifle”) Before, soldiers were able to only fire at a couple hundred yards at best. The Gatling gun was also invented during this time, a weapon capable of firing 3,000 rounds per minute. Solving the problems of loading, reliability, and sustained firing, the Gatling gun devastated the soldiers of the civil War, mowing down men with intense speed ( Other technological contributions were the use of the locomotive in transporting men and weapons, the use of iron clad ships at sea, and lastly, a change from Napoleonic War tactics to “modern” tactics ( Described as the first modern war, the Civil War was the first war that utilized a moving campaign strategy and used a unified command (“Civil War”). But with all this progress came an exponential increase in deaths; By the end of the war 620,000 men had been killed, not accounting for those injured and wounded (Civil War).

            Thure de Thulstrup accurately and vividly depicts the atrocities of the Civil War in his depiction of the Battle of Spotsylvania. Growing up out of the United States for the first 25 years of life, Thulstrup had graduated from the Swedish Military Academy and served in the Swedish and French army. During his service he served as an artillery officer and later put in service in the Franco-Prussian War (“Thure De Thulstrup”). Unlike Trumbull, Thulstrup had not only seen combat up close; He had been a part of the combat. Likewise, while Trumbull displayed war as a heroic or almost knightly pursuit, Thulstrup painted only the grave realities of warfare. Trumbull tried to display the progression of America, while Thulstrip painted the truth. While Trumbull painted a picture with a clear villain and hero, Thulstrup painted a scene where the line between hero and villain is blurred, making everyone nothing more than a survivor fighting for life. Despite the fact that the Northern Army is clearly the victor in this battle, for the most part, the faces of the men have an equal look of determination and fear. To the right of the center, there is a Union Soldier ripping the standards from a fallen Confederates hands. Despite the fact that the Confederate has fallen to the ground, he still holds a firm, tight grasp on the flag, trying with all his might to prevent his inevitable defeat. These features display the determination with which both sides of the war fought. This proved to be a contributing factor to the high death toll of the Civil War. Once a side loses morale, they give up. But when both sides have strong morale and support for their cause, they fight to the death. In this battle alone, 30,000 men were killed (The American Battlefield Protection Program). So much gunfire was exchanged between the two sides, that an oak tree with a diameter of 22 inches, was “cut down” by the flying bullets ( According to soldiers, entire logs were reduced to hickory logs, and several oak trees were literally shot down. It was also reported that the air was dense and thick with smoke from the artillery fire (Galloway). Thulstrup accounted for this fact by adding excessive amounts of gun smoke in the air and by having only one faint tree in the background of the battle. With the eye of a real soldier, Thulstrip managed to portray war at its rawest form.

Otto Dix: Wounded Soldier (1924)

            Like Thulstrip, Otto Dix experienced war on a first hand account. In the trenches of Germany in World War One, Dix was volunteered for the position of a non commissioned officer of a machine gun unit. As an NCO, Dix was responsible for being the most visible leader to the infantry during missions and training sessions (“Otto Dix”). As a member of the machine gun unit, Dix was bound to see death and killing on a frequent basis. Despite technological innovations such as the tank, the bomber plane, the submarine, and poison gas, the main factor that caused the 10 million deaths was the machine gun (World War One). This had a profound impact on Dix, causing him to later join the Dadaism movement after the war, creating art that questioned the results, impacts, and causes of war (“Otto Dix”). Did the ends really justify the means? Was war worth it? During his time in the service he had suffered an injury to the neck that proved to be almost fatal, forever changing his outlook on life itself (“Otto Dix”) (National Gallery of Australia).

           In his etching of “Wounded Soldier” Dix shows the face of a soldier whose face has an expression of fear and confusion streaked across it. With a mouth wide open, he almost seems to be screaming in pain and confusion: possibly a look that one gives when they know they are about to die. The fingers of his right hand clutch desperately at his heart, giving one the impression that he is either suffering from a heart attack or has just been shot within that proximity. The face of the infantryman is also scarred and scabbed, a result of the harsh conditions of trench life. Another thing to take note of is the helmet on the soldiers head. In World War One, the typical soldier wore a metal helmet that had no markings or patterns on it (“Stalhelm”). Yet, on this soldiers helmet, there is a distinct amorphous smear that resembles dirt and dried blood, indicating that this soldier has seen his fair share of blood, sweat, and tears. According to Dix himself, the reason that he volunteered for the war effort was that so he could see for himself, the truths and realities of war (National Gallery of Australia). At the time, people all over Europe were excited about going to war, expecting the entirety of it all to be over by Christmas (Duiker 630). But the works of Dix illustrate the foolishness of those people and the cold realities of war. Because of the war, Dix suffered PTSD which helped inspire and push his work forward. Haunted by nightmares and memories, Dix tried to show the true costs of war, in hopes that they would prevent yet another manmade disaster (National Gallery of Australia).

Pablo Picasso: Guernica (1937)

           During the Spanish Civil War, there was a major conflict between the Republicans [Who were supported by Mexico, France, the US, France, and the USSR] and the Nationalists [Who were supported by Italy and Germany]. While the Nationalists represented a fascist government, the Republicans advocated Democracy and freedom (International World History Project). With the backing of the western world, the Republicans were able to resist the Nationalists for a short period of time. But eventually, due to the help of Italy and Nazi Germany, the Nationalists were able to overwhelm the Republicans and win the conflict as a whole. One event that proved to be crucial for the Nationalists was the bombing of the city of Guernica. Using Blitzkrieg tactics, German bomber planes bombed the city for three hours and fighter planes shot anyone who tried to escape the destruction (PBS). The results were devastating: approximately seventy percent of the town had been destroyed and one third of the population had been killed or wounded. But what was so shocking about this attack was that it was not even targeted at military personnel; it was aimed directly at the civilian population in hopes that it would break down the moral of the Republicans. In fact, the attack was scheduled on Monday which was also market day, a day when all the civilians would be out in the open, vulnerable to attack (Holliday). Sad to say, this would be one of many attacks in the future because for Hitler, Guernica had served its purpose as a testing ground for a new tactic: The Blitzkrieg (PBS). Seeing that it had worked, Hitler then went on to use it to conquer much of central Europe, thus causing WW2. In WW2, 17 million deaths were incurred due to advancements in bombing techniques, the tank, and air combat in general (World Book). The bombing of Guernica started a destructive trend which would continue all the way into the 21st century.

          Being a native Spaniard and a die-hard republican, Pablo Picasso was outraged when news spread of the Guernican Bombing (Holliday). With fervor and determination, Picasso set out to create a mural that would spread a message and prove a point regarding this tragedy. Being 11 feet tall and 25 feet long, this mural has a big impact on the viewer just due to it's enormous size (Holliday). Through its size alone it tells the viewer that Guernica is a “big issue.” And when one looks at the faces in the painting, one of the first things they notice is the fact that all of their mouths are open, even the horses (Holliday). This opening of the mouth indicates a sign of shock and a sense of fear. The shock is produced from the surprise that the people of Guernica had when the attack happened and the fear is produced from the continual bombing and the decimation of the city. It could also be a fear of the future of warfare in general. If the Germans could pull off such a feat, what else was in store for the future of war? The horse in the center has his tongue sticking out, expressing extreme exhaustion and thirst. The horse represents the people of Guernica, who thirst for democracy and freedom. Yet if we look closely at the horses legs, we can see that he is buckling to the ground, falling to his demise, symbolic of the Republican defeat (Holliday). Next there is the mother who is weeping over here dead child on the far left. With her head cocked back, she seems to be crying to the gods, or possibly cursing the planes overhead who have murdered her young child. We know the child is dead given that the whites of his eyes are visible, and the awkward positioning of his head (Holliday). In the center, there is a man with a broken sword in his hand, trampled on the ground. Like the horse, he represents the Guernican people, and the sword he holds in his hand represents the battles and fights the Republicans had against the nationalists. The Fact that he lays on the ground with a broken sword shows us that he was unsuccessful in his cause. Regardless, next to his left hand, lay a small patch of flowers, an icon that seems disturbingly inappropriate in this scene. But in reality, they signify hope for the Spanish People (Holliday). The flowers state that though they may have lost the battle, they can still win the war. Despite Picasso’s hopeful aspirations, the republicans lost the war. Later Germany's influence spread all the way to Paris France, the location of Picasso's dwelling. Luckily for him due to his international fame and prestige, they did not dare to execute him in fear of the backlash they would receive from the international community (Pablo Picasso: His Paintings, art, and life). Despite the fact that he had no previous military experience, Picasso was a man who felt and understood the pain of others and conveyed a message of reality through his brush.

Seb Janiak: Downtown L.A. Atomic (2005)

             Near the end of WW2, Japan had taken a strong offensive on the United States by bombing Pearl Harbor in an effort to cripple the US's Naval fleet. Though effective, the US eventually recovered and continued on to develop two atomic bombs, both of which were later dropped on Japan (Duiker and Spielvogel). When the bomb dropped in Hiroshima, 140,000 were killed, and when the bomb was dropped in Nagasaki, over 73,000 were killed (Levine). But these numbers don't account for those who later died of radiation poison and, the babies who had defects due to the high levels of radiation in the air. Given that each of the bombs weighed over 8,000 pounds, the results are not at all surprising (Levine). But this final bombing failed to accomplish its true intent: the end the war to end all wars. What actually happened was that people were convinced by the effectiveness of atomic weaponry, and years upon years of stockpiling and research began. As a result, the world today has at the very least 28,091 nuclear warheads (Arms Control Association). And that doesn't hold into account all the countries and terrorists who have nuclear weapons unofficially. And in one year alone, the United States managed to spend over 35 billion dollars on nuclear weapons (The Brookings Institution). All that money could have been used to fight poverty in Africa, or cure cancer, but instead it was spent on developing better, and quicker ways to kill.

            As an artist, Seb Janiak always wanted to be a rebel and had an “anti-establishment” flair about his works, whether it be photography, graphic design, or film (Janiak). This was caused by the fact that when he came to the United States, he resided in Los Angeles and became engulfed in the surf and rock and roll culture of the 70's, being greatly influenced by futuristic films such as Star Wars and Blade Runner (Herber). What he later went on to create was a new graphic design technique known as digital matte painting, in which two separate images are merged together to produce one strikingly realistic, seamless image, an editing tool used in “Downtown Atomic L.A.” (Herber). In his work we see a vastly populated civilian city being bombed with weapons that seem to have power rivaling those of modern atomic weapons. The mushroom clouds are designed to resemble those photographed after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Though, Janiak did not actually live during WW2 and the bombing of Japan, he was definitely influenced by the art and media that came to life as a result of the bombing. In the first Star Wars movie, Darth Vader tries to use the Death Star’ Laser, to literally obliterate the entire planet of Yavin IV (Wikipedia). This whole notion of destroying an entire population by using just one bomb was inspired by the US's bombing on Japan. Also, the fact that the bombs are falling on a civilian population and not a military base or factory, is a strong reminder to Guernica and the fact that the Nazis chose to attack the morale of the people, rather than target military targets. Also, the woman in the foreground is Asian, possibly a reference to Japan, but more importantly, she is dressed in some futuristic garb, not the clothing of today. What this shows us is a glimpse into the future. The fact that she is a part of the future, shows us that as a society, we are leading ourselves down a path of destruction. Janiak is sending out a warning to us all, telling us that if we do not change ways we will reach a point of destruction, from which we will never recover. And the position of the woman on a rock set away from the city gives a possibly ironic view. During the bombing of Japan, the Japanese people were suffering in the city, while the Americans watched on. Now the Japanese are watching on as LA is bombed. And lastly, one can notice that there are three suns in the sky instead of just one. This sets a sort of futuristic tone, just like the movies “Blade Runner” and “Star Wars” that influenced Janiak in his early days. With this work, Janiak is rebelling from the status quo, and trying to inspire change for survival of humanity.