'Neither beasts nor gods but men' : constructions of masculinity and the image of the ordinary British solider or 'Tommy' in the First World War art of C.R.W. Nevinson (1889-1946), Eric Henri Kennington (1888-1960) and Charles Sargeant Jagger (1885-1934)
In part this thesis was inspired by a reading of Frederic Manning's novel of the First World War, Her Privates We, published in 1930. In the novel's foreword Manning suggests that the men who did by far the most fighting and dying on the side of Britain during the First World War, ordinary soldiers in the ranks, had been fundamentally misunderstood by those writing about the war after the end of hostilities. Manning asserted, using the words I quote in the title of the thesis, that the men with whom he served in the ranks during the murderous battle of the Somme were not just soulless killers nor were they cattle-like victims who went to their deaths with no conception of why they fought. He remembered his comrades as ordinary men who consistently displayed an extraordinary capacity for endurance and ingenuity amidst the most atrocious conditions. Manning's perception of the ordinary British soldier, or Tommy' prompted me to explore the relatively under-researched and poorly appreciated area of imagery of the First World War created by British official and unofficial war artists. Those who had fought valued tremendously the imagery of the British soldier from the ranks created by Nevinson, Kennington and Jagger. One of the principle objectives of this thesis will be to uncover reasons for why this was the case. In addition, art of the First World War operates in an area over which a number of disciplines overlap, such as art history, military history, anthropology, literary history and gender studies. This thesis seeks to offer, in a manner which has not been hitherto attempted, to integrate approaches from the aforementioned disciplines in an attempt to enrich understanding of how various participants reacted in the way they did to images of British combatants created by Nevinson, Kennington and Jagger. In particular, this study acknowledges the advances made in the realm of Masculinity Studies over the past decade and argues that deployment of such research can considerably enhance our appreciation of why certain images, whether they be a painting or a drawing or a piece of figurative sculpture, could be greeted with widespread approbation or equally comprehensive condemnation. The author has been pleasantly surprised by the extent of unpublished material there still exists concerning the three artists under investigation despite the fact that, during their heyday, they were collectively regarded as among Britain's brightest artistic talents. There remains far more to be said, and argued, about the imagery of soldiers produced within Britain during one of the most traumatic and destructive episodes in human history. This thesis does not, in itself, constitute a definitive study of the careers of three fascinating and important artists during and immediately after the First World War. However, it is offered in the hope that the information it contains will spur future students of the era to further investigation in what remains an extremely fertile area for thought-provoking research.