Dehumanization of soldiers

Dehumanization of soldiers

© ADAGP, Photo RMN-Grand Palais - Bulloz

Publication date: July 2006

Historical context

During the hostilities from 1914 to 1918, in all the belligerent countries, painters, like the vast majority of artists and intellectuals, mobilized or not, sincerely participate in the culture of war by producing more or less patriotic works. In the mid-twenties, movements of remembrance and celebration were at the heart of artists' concerns.

Image Analysis

In The war, Marcel Gromaire represented five helmeted soldiers, encased in coats-breastplates, in a trench: three awaiting possible assault; the other two, observe the no man’s land through the slit of a steel plate. With plastic means close to Cubism, it symbolizes the armed struggle on an industrial scale carried out by human-robots. The latter appear to be frozen, almost blending into the landscape (only the horizon blue color of their uniform distinguishes them from the wall of the trench) to the point of resembling blocks of stone, colossal statues with rounded shapes (the equipment) and steep. Only the hands have kept a human appearance.


Artists are not immune to the global evolution of the perception of confrontation and its terrible violence. The era of heroic realism, patriotic allegories and warlike exaltation at the beginning of the conflict gradually gave way to various attempts to account for suffering and death. The pictorial manner is transformed, gets rid of its aesthetic tinsel, of its deceptive realism, the lines break, the colors burst, not to represent the details of the fight, but to give a different sense of its horror. Gromaire painted this picture seven years after the end of the war, with the distance of a retrospective view based on his own experience as a veteran. The general composition, while referring to the mechanization and dehumanization of the clashes, also evokes one of the many monuments to the dead built immediately after the war to collectively bear witness to the slaughter and not to forget the sacrifice of the soldiers. The massive and statified body of these has become a funerary monument. We can clearly see, through this work of 1925, that the painter went from consent to war to consent to memorial celebration.

  • army
  • cubism
  • War of 14-18
  • hairy
  • memory
  • patriotism
  • robot


Stéphane AUDOIN-ROUZEAU and Jean-Jacques BECKER (eds.), Encyclopedia of the Great War, 1914-1918, Paris, Bayard, 2004.Philippe DAGEN, The Silence of painters. Artists in the Face of the Great War, Paris, Fayard, 1996 Kenneth E. SILVER, Vers le retour à l'Orange. The Parisian avant-garde and the First World War, Paris, Flammarion, 1991. Pierre VALLAUD, 14-18, the First World War, volumes I and II, Paris, Fayard, 2004.

To cite this article

Laurent VÉRAY, "The dehumanization of soldiers"

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