In the spring of 1915, Fortunino Matania traveled to the front lines of the Great War to research his illustrations for the British illustrated journal The Sphere.
|Neuve Chapelle, 1915, by Fortunino Matania, Royal Worcestershire Regiment Museum|
He sketched the positions of the dead and the the layout of the defenses, reconstructing the battle that had just taken place. But the battlefield was still hot, and his attempts to sketch were interrupted by machine gun fire. Ducking into a trench, he bobbed his head up for a few seconds to take in the view of the nearby village and the debris—a battered teakettle, a discarded bottle, and a sardine can.
A shell exploded just five yards away, covering him and his sketchbook with dirt. He escaped to the relative safety of a field hospital, where he interviewed survivors. Returning to his studio in England, he dug a trench in his own garden to reconstruct the scene in real life, where he could study the effects in safety.
This story is just one of many contained in a new book called Goodbye, Old Man: Matania's Vision of the First World War about the Italian-born illustrator Fortunino Matania (1881-1963). The title is a reference to his most famous image, showing a soldier saying farewell to his dying horse as his buddies urge him on.
The book is softcover, 6 3/4 x 7 1/2 inches with over 100 illustrations, more than 30 of which are in color. The images are reproduced both from original art and from tearsheets. Because of the petite size of the book, the illustrations are unfortunately disappointingly small, but they're well captioned, and larger files can often be found online. List price is U.S. $18.95, but it can be found on Amazon for less than $15.00.
The book does much to fill the gap in published information about this underappreciated artist whom I've written about many times before on this blog. It's an especially good resource for anyone interested in the documentation of World War I. I hope that someone will produce another book covering his vast output of historical illustrations after the war.
Previous GJ posts on Matania