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The Great War in Portraits - National Portrait Gallery

Exhibition preview

THE National Portrait Gallery is commemorating the centenary of the First World War with a four-year programme of exhibitions, displays, public events and learning projects.

The two major activities in 2014 are The Great War in Portraits, a free exhibition of images of individuals involved in the conflict, and National Memory – Local Stories, a creative participation project that uses significant objects in local museums to engage young people from around the country with the centenary.

In viewing the First World War through images of the many individuals involved, The Great War in Portraits – on display until June 15 – looks at the radically different roles, experiences and, ultimately, destinies of those caught up in the conflict.

Setting the scene in 1914, the splendour and formality of portraits of national leaders are contrasted with a press photograph of Gavrilo Princip, the 19-year-old assassin of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

The narrative unfolds with power-portraits of commanders Haig, Foch and Hindenburg, asserting military authority, which are displayed together with dignified pictures of their troops by artists including Orpen, Sickert and Nevinson.

Finally, images of heroes and medal-winners are shown alongside the wounded and the fallen, representing the bitter-sweet nature of a war in which valour and selfless endeavour were qualified by disaster and suffering.

From paintings and drawings to photography and film, the exhibition considers a wide range of visual responses to ‘the war to end all wars’, culminating in the visual violence of Expressionist masterpieces by Beckmann and Kirchner.

A paperback catalogue (pictured), The Great War in Portraits by curator Paul Moorhouse, is available from the NPG shop, priced £18.95 (£17.05 for members). The catalogue also features an essay by acclaimed author Sebastian Faulks whose novels include Birdsong (1993), A Week in December (2009) and A Possible Life (2013).

Also at the National Portrait Gallery: Bailey’s Stardust.

National Portrait Gallery, St Martin’s Place, London, WC2H 0HE

Tel: 020 7306 0055