Women Artists

Women artists played a significant role in documenting both civilian and service experiences. Women artists painted civilian female workers in factories – (doing jobs vacated by men in the military) – who had become crucial for war-related production.

Flora Lion, Women’s Canteen at Phoenix Works, Bradford, 1918, oil on canvas, 106.6 x 182.8mm (Imperial War Museum, London)

In her painting Women’s Canteen at Phoenix Works, Bradford, Flora Lion shows us a canteen of women munitions (weapons) workers. We can see the exhaustion that the workers are feeling. Their resigned expressions and slouching posture emphasise the mental and physical fatigue of this critical but dangerous line of work, but they also make us recognise the more emotional weariness of the civilian war experience.


WW1 and Modernism

During the years leading up to the war, many modernists began to turn their attention to their media; writers and authors broke free of traditional constraints of form and imagery and brought the very materials of their crafts to the forefront. They questioned the solidity of the bond between representation and meaning. Works like T.S. Eliot’s poem, “The Waste Land,” Mark Gertler’s “Merry-Go-Round,” or Virginia Woolf’s “Mrs. Dalloway” sought to shock, alienate, or provoke audiences and to thereby explore new sensory and intellectual effects in art and literature.

 Mark Gertler, Merry-Go-Round, 1916, oil on canvas, 189.2 x 142.2 cm (Tate)

While the modernist movement had begun prior to the war, the conflict’s vast scale, brutality, and costs fascinated many artists and writers. The war definitely ended many social and cultural traditions that survived the nineteenth century and made clear the modern, mechanised world we were entering, a world where older expressive forms and techniques no longer seemed adequate, appropriate, or compelling.