Monday, April 21, 2014

Eugène Burnand's World War I Portraits

Ben Cassam

Between 1917 and 1920, Swiss artist Eugène Burnand (1850-1921) drew over a hundred portraits of the various allies in World War I.
Serraghi Cherrif
He drew them with Wolff pencils. The color was added with Hardtmuth hard pastels. Burnand's keen observation was shaped during his training at the École des Beaux-Arts with Jean-Léon Gérôme.
Jean Bellac
Many of his subjects posed for him while they were recuperating between deployments,.

Tirailleur Famory
Burnand was interested in the various ethnicities and facial types of the military men.

Mohamed Ben Binhouan
He drew them all with sympathy but also objectivity.

Lé Naplong
Most are shown with indirect light, and with an upshot angle, increasing the sense of dignity.

Lé Tiep
He often subordinated the edges around the neck and shoulders, and concentrated the attention on the eyes and mouth.

Private Roshan Dean
It's a genuine accomplishment in portraiture to capture the uniqueness of the individual's physiognomy but also their universal emotion.

Auxiliary Chan Mohamed
He got to know each of them first and developed a relationship of trust. Sometimes the sitting became more like a confessional.

Rev. Père Rouillon
He offered to pay them for sitting, but many of them refused to accept the money, as they felt honored to pose.

Serbian infantry private
Resources to learn more:
See the rest of Burnand's WWI portraits online 
Drawings on display Museum of the Legion of Honor (Légion d'honneur) in Paris.
The drawings were published in 1922 a book called Les alliés dans la guerre des nations.
Here's a modern book that includes the work from Les Alliés Dans La Guerre Des Nations.
Review by Gabriel Weisberg of a catalog of a 2004 exhibition of Burnand's work.
Eugène Burnand on Wikipedia


David Webb said...

What beautiful work, and such a great record of that period in time. I imagine he opted for coloured pencils for their portability?

Vladimir Venkov said...

Wonderful portraits...
He caught their souls.

Rich said...

All those different ethnicities so finely portrayed - racism impossible with such a degree of education.

krystal said...

this is amazing and some of the best portraits of different ethnicities (and their undertones) I have ever seen! Great degree of precision without being too analytical so it captures the energy and life of each individual and doesn't make them just an 'other' (as Edward Said might say). Amazing.

Tryggvi Edwald said...

How large are the pictures, would you say?
The colour looks like it came from coloured pencils; you think they were dry pastels in pencil format?

Really nice execution, and certainly eliminates a lot of the messiness that often comes with 'wet' techniques, eg. watercolours or acrylic.

James Gurney said...

Tryggvi, I have no idea how big they are. Maybe someone who has seen them in Paris can say.

Unknown said...

Does it seems like he raised the chroma of the colors a little bit more than in real life?

Unknown said...

I am the author of the website they are published on. On the website there is a picture of me standing next to the originals on the history page. You can judge the size. They appear to be life size.
Doug jenkinson