# Painting, singing and acting to fight against the boredom at the front

James THIRIAR, "Au feu de la rampe" (In the spotlight), pencil and watercolour, Flanders, 1916  - Royal Museum of the Army and Military History, Inv. N° KLM-MRA : 803729 ©

James THIRIAR, "Au feu de la rampe" (In the spotlight), pencil and watercolour, Flanders, 1916 - Royal Museum of the Army and Military History, Inv. N° KLM-MRA : 803729 ©

If there's one aspect of the First World War that seldom comes to mind when we think about the day-to-day lives of the soldiers at the front, and especially in the trenches of the Yser, it's certainly the artistic aspect. This is true even though many Belgian artists not only served in the ranks of the army but also produced, during the conflict, a considerable number of works that are still largely unknown to the general public, or that simply contributed to boosting the morale of the soldiers to some small degree… By the end of 1914, the penetration of the German army into Belgian territory is already a few months old. The troops of Albert 1st, King of the Belgians, after having flooded the plains around the Yser, are now confined to a narrow strip of land in the northwest of Belgium. From Nieuwpoort to Ypres, as well as across the French border, the frontline stabilizes: on either side, an increasingly sophisticated network of trenches is built, often raised above ground level and fortified; observing and waiting are the order of the day. For the four years of this conflict, Belgians and Germans will literally camp out within their positions, since the rare offensives finally prove to be more murderous for the attackers than for the defenders… As such, four long years oscillating between relative calm and true anguish, within the Belgian ranks. It's also a period of artistic blossoming, since between two shifts of guard duty or fatigue duties, the soldiers play cards, write their precious war journals and send letters to their families. For their part, solitary painters crisscross the areas behind the Yser front, taking inspiration from the ruined landscapes; at the same time, musicians and actors give concerts and theatre performances in the camps or in the army's field hospitals.

Advert