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20 October 2014
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Interpretation: Propaganda
What can be concluded about the First World War from propaganda?

The WPB hired writers and photographers as war journalists, but they also hired painters and poets. These artists were told what they could and could not include in their work.

Thinking Point: Which of the following images do you think the government would want to use for their propaganda?


Nevinson, 'Paths of Glory'

  • Why is it important that the wire is intact?
  • Is it likely that another soldier would be able to rescue them?
  • Why paint a blue sky above such a horrible scene?
  • Nevinson has painted them face down to make the men anonymous. Why?
  • Were these men turning back as they could not get past the enemy wire?


Kennington, 'Over the Top'

  • Why paint the last two men in the trench?
  • What is the condition of the trench in the picture?
  • Has the man in front paused with his hand on the ladder, unable to move with fear?
  • There are no dead people in the trench-- is this accurate?
  • Why has the artist chosen to paint only a tiny bit of the action in the top left corner?
  • What impression of going 'over the top' does this drawing give you?


Sargent, 'Arras'

  • Why does Sargent show men resting and not in action?
  • Is there a reason for showing distinctly British soldiers (in kilts)?
  • Do you think the soldiers look relaxed and casual, or exhausted after a long fight?
  • One soldier has removed his helmet and is almost lying down. Does this suggest that they are very brave to be so calm?
  • What do the colours of the painting suggest about the weather and the time of year?
  • What impression of the soldiers does this painting give you?
  • What impression of the War does this painting give you?

Note: Nevinson's picture was banned from a War Art show in 1918. He hung the picture anyway, wrapping it in brown paper and writing 'CENSORED' on it to make a statement about how the government controlled what people saw of the war.

How do you think the government wanted to protray the war?

Click here for help

A - Like Nevinson's painting because they wanted to show what it was truly like.

B - Like Kennington's picture to show that even though the men might be afraid, they did their duty.

C -Like Sargent's painting to convince men that the war was about making good friends.

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