Extraordinary First World War Art, From Initial Sketches To Finished Paintings

The Imperial War Museum have shared this remarkable collection of iconic World War One art, showing the creative process from sketch to final painting.

The world is marking the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of The Great War this week. Alongside the bloodshed recorded through photography, many artists were commissioned to paint scenes of warfare, creating raw and vivid depictions of the conflict.

The Imperial War Museum have shared some striking artworks with BuzzFeed UK. These preparatory sketches would have been one of many studies leading to the finished painting - slide across to compare the two images. The Museum is currently displaying work at the Truth and Memory: British Art of the First World War exhibition.

‘Oppy Wood, 1917 Evening’, by John Nash.

John Nash / © IWM Art. IWM ART 3905 & Art. IWM ART 2243 / Via Study: Final:

The lower half of the composition has a view inside a trench with duckboard paths leading to a dug-out. Two infantrymen stand to the left of the dug-out entrance, one of them on the firestep looking over the parapet into No Man’s Land. This is one of a series of paintings commissioned by the British War Memorial Committee set up by the Ministry of Information early in 1918. It was intended that both the art and the setting would celebrate national ideals of heroism and sacrifice.

Via Imperial War Museum /

‘British Scouts leaving their Aerodrome on Patrol, over the Asiago Plateau, Italy, 1918’, by Sydney Carline.

Sydney Carline / © IWM Art. IWM ART 4496 & Art. IWM ART 2679 / Via Study: Final:

An aerial view of the Asagio Plateau with the Italian Alps in the upper background. Three aircraft, seen from above, circle in the upper left of the composition.

Via Imperial War Museum /

‘We are Making a New World’, by Paul Nash.

Paul Nash / © IWM Art. IWM ART 724 & Art. IWM ART 1146 / Via Study: Final:

The view over a desolate landscape with shattered trees, the earth a mass of shell holes. The sun hangs high in the sky, beams of light shining down through heavy, earth-coloured clouds. This work … is one of the most memorable images of the First World War. The title mocks any ambitions of war, as the sun rises on a scene of total destruction. The landscape has become un-navigable, unrecognisable and utterly barren; the mounds of earth are gravestones to a recently departed world.

Via Imperial War Museum /

‘Old French Front Lines, North East of Toutvent Farm, Hebuterne’, by Geoffrey K Rose.

Geoffrey K Rose / © IWM Art. IWM ART 4784 & Art. IWM ART 4779 / Via Study: Final:

A view along a long, deep trench in northern France, which appears to be no longer in use. A wide firestep and the parapet of the trench run along the right, with a few sheets of corrugated iron and a few trunks of wood on the firestep.

Via Imperial War Museum /

‘A Howitzer Firing’, 1918, by Paul Nash.

Paul Nash / Imperial War Museum / Via Study: Final:

A scene with four British artillerymen firing a Howitzer gun. They stand beneath a canopy of camoflage netting. To the right a blast of light erupts from the muzzle of the gun, and the men on the left shield their faces from the brightness.

Via Imperial War Museum /

‘Flying Over the Desert at Sunset, Mesopotamia, 1919’, by Sydney Carline.

Sydney Carline / © IWM Art. IWM ART 4625 & Art. IWM ART 4623 / Via Study: Final:

An unnaturally bright sun blazes over a landscape with a river.

Via Imperial War Museum /

‘Motor Transport Troops and German Prisoners, Chaulnes, Autumn 1918’, by John Dodgson.

John Dodgson / © IWM Art. IWM ART 16669 & Art. IWM ART 4205 / Via Study: Final:

A crowded scene with British soldiers and German prisoners amongst a construction site. Three British soldiers, one German prisoner and a small dog stand in the centre of the composition next to a motorcycle with debris in the foreground.

Via Imperial War Museum /

‘A French Highway’, 1918, by John Nash.

John Nash / © IWM Art. IWM ART 3917 & Art. IWM ART 1162 / Via Study: Final:

British troops march across the foreground. They walk in rows of three, every man wearing full kit. Behind them are two mounted French officers, in their distinctive helmets and dark blue cloaks. They march along a road lined with bare, branchless trees. There is the edge of a ruined building in the left background.

Via Imperial War Museum /

‘Over The Top’ 1st Artists’ Rifles at Marcoing, 30th December 1917, by John Nash.

John Nash / © IWM Art. IWM ART 3908 & Art. IWM ART 1656 / Via Study: Final:

A group of soldiers clamber from the trench, going ‘over the top’. Two lie dead in the trench and another has fallen lying face down in the snow. Those who have survived plod forward towards the right without looking back. The painting commemorates the 1st Artists’ Rifles involvement in an attack on the morning of 30th December, 1917, at Welsh Ridge, near Marcoing (south west of Cambrai). The unit was recalled from ‘rest’ in response to a German attack and hastily committed to action. The consequences were disastrous and the Artists’ Rifles suffered heavy casualties. This battle experience profoundly affected the artist and his painting.

Via Imperial War Museum /

‘The Sea of Galilee: Aeroplanes Attacking Turkish Boats’, 1919, by Sydney Carline.

Sydney Carline / © IWM Art. IWM ART 4566 & Art. IWM ART 3080 / Via Study: Final:

A high altitude aerial view of the Sea of Galilee. It is flanked by hills on the right-hand shore, the Jordan river lower left and a snow-capped Mount Hermon rising above the clouds in the upper right of the composition. Three aircraft fly towards the lake, where several dark shapes of Turkish motorboats setting off from the shore are visible.

Via Imperial War Museum /

‘A Shell Dump, France’, by William Roberts.

William Roberts / © IWM Art. IWM ART 1164 & Art. IWM ART 2273 / Via Study: Final:

A scene of men stacking artillery shells in a shell dump. The space is filled with men who stand in the form of a human chain passing the shells along the line to be stacked in a pile at the end.

Via Imperial War Museum /

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Matt Tucker is the UK picture editor for BuzzFeed and is based in London.
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