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18 September 2014
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Art and Daily Life in World War Two

By Roger Tolson
'Taube' by CRW Nevinson
'Taube', 1916, by CRW Nevinson, Imperial War Museum, 76cm x 64cm, oil on canvas ©
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Detail of 'Taube' showing a dead child
A child lies dead, a result of an attack from a Taube - a German plane ©
At first sight, the artist appears to simply demand an emotional response to the death of the child. Spread-eagled on the pavement, the child is completely unprotected and its death incidental to the attack and to the war. However, the title raises other questions. As war demanded the efforts of entire nations and as the technology of World War One developed, almost any target could be hit and its legitimacy justified. Judgement is not specifically against the individual pilots but against the means and methods of war.
Detail of 'Taube' showing broken shutters on a building
The home front became vulnerable to attack as weaponry and technology developed - nowhere was safe from the bombing raids ©
The Taube (Taube translates as ‘dove’, taub as ‘death’ ) was a German two-seater, reconnaissance plane with the capacity to carry improvised armaments, such as bombs. These would be aimed and dropped by hand but with limited control. Both the title and the evidence of an explosion imply that this was the cause of death of the child. The assailant is deliberately excluded from the painting frame, the point being that they are out of sight and far removed both physically and emotionally from the scene, unable to control their attack or witness its ends.
World War One aircraft
The development of aircraft during World War One served a number of military purposes. Primarily, they could observe and assess military strength and be used to direct and assess the impact of artillery fire. But they also gave the opportunity to attack from above and to move the point of attack strategically and quickly. This was a threat that was understood in popular culture even before the war broke out, arousing fear and uncertainty amongst the civilian population.
The artist
CRW Nevinson was the most popular and controversial English artist of World War One. He served as a medical orderly in Belgium and London and under the influence of the Italian Futurists produced stark, graphic images of soldiers and landscape caught in the machinery of war. He was appointed an official war artist in 1917 and responded to the stalemate of the Western Front with images that reflected its bitter and endless disappointment.
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