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Soldiers walking.
Artist Soldiers

Artist Soldiers: The AEF Art Program

The First World War was characterized by mass mobilization of people and resources on a scale like none before. Millions of soldiers took to the battlefield, and the industrial output and civilian involvement in support of the war was unprecedented. The event not only remade the world geopolitically, but transformed how societies engage and relate to military conflict.

Artistic expression during the war contributed to this transformation. Before World War I, war art largely depicted heroic military leaders and romanticized battles, done long after the fact, far from the battlefield. The First World War marked a turning point with the appearance of artwork intended to capture the moment in a realistic way, by first-hand participants.

The AEF WWI war art collection currently is held by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, Division of Armed Forces History, from which the artworks in this exhibition are on loan.