Meet the AEF Artists

Posted on Thu, April 6, 2017

The eight artists selected for the AEF art program were all established illustrators and painters before their military assignment, and had accomplished art careers after the war. They were selected by a committee chaired by Charles Dana Gibson, an illustrator who had gained fame as the creator of the popular “Gibson Girl” idealized image of feminine beauty. Gibson’s Pictorial Publicity Committee was under the broader wartime Committee on Public Information, established to coordinate propaganda for the war effort.

Image of a boat at port.

Newly Arrived Troops Debarking at Brest by Walter Jack Duncan, Pen and ink wash, and charcoal on paper, July 22, 1918

The first wartime experience for all AEF troops was the transport to Europe. Their experience “Over There” began with their arrival in France.

The following Artists’ portraits courtesy of National Archives

Black and white portrait.

William James Aylward

Aylward grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, around ships and docks that became the center of his painting. He studied art at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Art Students League in New York City, and later under Howard Pyle, considered the father of American illustration.

Aylward traveled extensively and spent several years in France, painting and studying privately, all the time pursuing a highly successful career as a book, magazine, and advertising illustrator. He was best known for nautical themes. As a war artistic he concentrated on logistics, especially French ports. After the war Aylward resumed his career as an illustrator, and also taught at several art schools.

Black and white portrait from the shoulders on up.

Walter Jack Duncan

After graduating high school in Indianapolis, Indiana, Duncan studied art at the Art Students League in New York City, considered the best art school in America at that time. He established himself as a book and magazine illustrator, especially adept at pen and ink drawing.

Duncan’s war art focused on men in rear areas keeping the army supplied. At war’s end, he took a studio in Paris and worked on drawings and lithographs. He returned to the United States in June 1919 and resumed working for magazines and illustrating books, and also taught at the Art Students League.

Profile of artist.

George Matthews Harding

Harding studied art at the Pennsylvania Academy of Art and later under the distinguished illustrator-teacher Howard Pyle. As a war artist, he was particularly intrigued by the new technologies of war, frequently depicting guns, airplanes, tanks, trucks, and motorcycles. 

In 1919 Harding published a lavish portfolio of his war art, The American Expeditionary Forces in Action. He taught illustration at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts until 1958, interrupted during World War II by another stint as a war artist, the only AEF artist to serve in both world wars.

Black and white portrait.

Wallace Morgan

Morgan studied at the National Academy of Design in New York. He supported himself in school as a part-time sketch artist for the New York Sun, later working for popular magazines such as Collier’s, Cosmopolitan, The New Yorker, and the Saturday Evening Post. He developed considerable skill in rendering a variety of subjects in ready-to-print form without preliminary sketches.

During his year in France, Morgan attached himself to the Marine Brigade, which he followed into the battles at Château-Thierry and Belleau Wood. Considered one of the best artists in black and white of his time, Morgan was elected to the National Academy of Design and the Society of Illustrators’ Hall of Fame. 

Black and white portrait.

Ernest Clifford Peixotto

Peixotto trained at the Fine Arts at the Mark Hopkins Institute in San Francisco, before arriving in France in 1888 for three more years of study. Remaining in France until 1914, he painted the French countryside and its inhabitants, and wrote and illustrated several travel books. As a war artist, he mainly depicted French landscapes ravaged by war.

After the Armistice, Peixotto headed the Art Training Center in Paris, part of the AEF’s extensive educational program for American soldiers remaining in Europe during the postwar occupation of Germany. He returned to the United States in 1923 as director of the mural department at the Beaux Arts Institute of Design in New York.

Black and white portrait.

J. André Smith

Smith graduated from Cornell University in architecture, but preferred to make etchings, for which he attained a national reputation. Unlike the other official artists, Smith actually received officer’s training and served with a camouflage unit before becoming a war artist. As the group’s senior officer, he became its commander.

A rapid, accurate worker, Smith also became the group’s most prolific artist. After the war he published In France with the American Expeditionary Forces, which led to a successful career as freelance illustrator and painter. In 1938 he opened a studio and art school in Maitland, Florida, still operating today as the Maitland Art Center.

Black and white portrait.

Harry Everett Townsend

After study at Chicago’s Art Institute, then with Howard Pyle, finally in Europe, Townsend settled in New York to become a much-in-demand illustrator. Returning to Europe in 1912, he worked for a London magazine while residing in France. The 1914 outbreak of war brought Townsend home, first to draw war posters, then to become a war artist.

Much of his war art centered on new technologies like airplanes and tanks. An accredited artist at the post-Armistice peace conference, he also taught at the AEF’s Art Training Center in Paris before coming home. Townsend built a studio in Norwalk, Conn., where he worked for the rest of his life.

Black and white portrait.

Harvey Thomas Dunn

Dunn studied first at the Art Institute of Chicago, then with Howard Pyle. He became a successful teacher as well as illustrator of magazines, books, and advertising. In the war, Dunn established a reputation as a bold, even foolhardy, combat artist very much focused on frontline action.

Dunn continued painting pictures based on his war experience for many years. In 1919 he opened a studio and art school in New Jersey, where he taught hundreds of students and was a major influence on the next generation of illustrators. He was elected to the National Academy of Design and to the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame. 

  • Close-up of a sketch book.

    Harvey Dunn's sketch box. 

  • Box with lid removed, white paper can be seen underneath the lid.

    Sketch box with lid removed. 

  • Metal box.

    Closed sketch box. 

Harvey Dunn Sketch Box
Dunn used this sketch box of his own design during his nine months with the AEF in France in 1918.

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