Great War Types. An account from Burnand's journal "Liber Veritatis"
Sue Nicholson has achieved what was thought impossible by simultaneously decyphering and translating Burnand's handwriting from my rather poor photographs of the original. I owe her an enormous debt for the work she has put in and it had shed a lot of light on the artist's view of his project. Sue's notes are in red. I have altered some of her notes and translation slightly to fit in with the general style of the whole website.
(Note: EB's handwriting is small and intricate, quite difficult to read. This translation represents around 90% of the original text. Omissions are indicated with an ellipsis. I have struggled with the translation of the word "types" as used here by EB. It translates directly as "types" in English but this doesn't convey the full meaning, which is more along the lines of "character" or "example", even "specimen"; someone whose physical appearance embodies their racial and cultural background. Sue Nicholson)
A new departure from my mainstream paintings.
This project belongs in the Liber because I consider it to reflect an important part of my work - as, indeed, do the "Parables" - It was in November 1915 that the idea came to me to offer an editor (Berger-Levrault) a series of military "types" treated in a way which would be different from the usual images published in the illustrated papers. I wanted to make studies of the modern soldier from the psychological point of view.
If there was an additional dimension to these studies - ethnicity for example - it was because of the incredible range of nationalities coming to fight for the Allies, which opened up to me an almost infinite range of subjects.
An ill-fated Diplomatic mission, about which I have written in my "Mémoires de Guerre" took me to Paris in the Spring of 1917, allowing me to make a start on this project which my absence from France had forced me to postpone. In my studio on Rue d'Assas I got several people to sit for me, whom I had come across in the street or at the (Military) Depot of the Séminaire du St Sulpice. It was then that I drew the young soldier with the cap, from Salonica, with the tired expression, who looks sleepy, dreaming yet determined (No. 13). Also the old Territorial with the beret...an energetic face, an old Gaul, a grumbler (No. 21). That was also the time when I drew the Flemish soldier with the police headgear (No. 86), the man from the Landes and two or three Senegalese of whom one in particular reminded me of an ancient bronze, polished and patinated. This series attracted the attention of Monsieur D...., founder of a Beaux-Arts gallery ... I was about to agree to the publication of my work in a book about to be published but then decided that perhaps D. was not the right man to choose for such a project.
My work was interrupted during the summer following a serious illness which overtook me while I was in Paris and I decided to recommence in the Autumn. in October 1917 we departed for Montpellier; Julia, the twin girls and myself, set ourselves up in the country where we had stayed a few years before (8 years to be exact) Thanks to the presence in Montpellier of my nephew Paul, Lieutenent Colonel of the Troupes Ventaires, just back from Morocco, I was able to arrange for the models I needed to come to the studio of Max Leenhardt without further authorisation. I had in my pocket a note: "M. Eugène Burnand is authorised to go into barracks, depots and all military establishments. The General commanding the XVI Legion personally gives this letter of recommendation regarding M. Burnand to the commanders of military depots and other officers requesting that they afford him the greatest possible assistance.
By order of the Commander of the Garrison"
This authorisation which was later applied to the area of Marseille and then Paris, facilitated my work to the highest degree and for this I can never show enough gratitude.
And so I set out, stopping people in the street who caught my attention, going into depots where the Commanders put the men I needed at my disposal.
I was even invited to view a contingent of Riflemen and to inspect the troops. This happened seven times in Marseille. I inspected the crew of a Japanese ship. The complete collection which began with around 20 people has risen to date (2nd August 1918) to 45 which is about half of the intended total. I have no British subjects, no Americans, Italians, Portuguese, Greeks, Czecho-Slovaks... Will I have the strength to complete this enterprise? God alone knows.
Right from the start I used a special technique to bring out the qualities of the individual portraits. They do not differ one from the other in artistic style but by their ethnographic qualities. All the faces are set on a light background. The whole ensemble once completed will thus take on the appearance of a continuous frieze, even in the form of a book where one has to turn the pages. My intention is to give the French soldier pride of place. He deserves it because of his indomitable courage, his singleness of purpose, the spirit of sacrifice he has shown during this terrible, endless war. He also deserves it because of his beauty. In him I saw harmonious proportions, an eloquent and simple allure. The French soldier, forged over four years of battle is a type which carries to the utmost degree the essential characteristics of his race. He seems
(a simple country person in most cases) to have come spontaneously out of the rich earth of France. I tried to capture this in the portrait of the little Alpine(No. 13) and also earlier in the old Territorial (No. 21). But it is also in the Captain I met in Montpellier that I thought I could distinguish the distinctive marks of the French breed (No. 6); that finesse and precision in the features, sensitively and delicately shaped. The nurse, Mme de Mazanet, also seemed to me like a kind of apparition of France, at the same time pained and yet defiant. The attachment of the nose, the eyelids, the brow, the uniform, all betray her origins (No. 12).
Apart from eight canvasses completed in Paris in the Spring of 1917 most of the portraits were done in Montpellier and later in Marseille. That is where I met almost the whole series of Arabs (Tunisians, Algerians, Moroccans). The latter were sent to me from Arles where the depot of Moroccan Fusiliers was stationed. It was also in Montpellier that I met the three Russians in my collection; Serbs, a simple soldier and an officer (the splendid Commandant Thodorovich with his profile like an eagle), the men from Madagascar, Martinique, Guadeloupe.
It was in Marseille that Julia and I spent May and June 1918 and where I met the most wonderful subject: Indians, (Sikhs, Gurkhas, Burmese etc) and then men from Fiji, Somalis, Chinese, Japanese. It was a great harvest, dominated by the Protestant Almoner, Pastor Nick who had previously been in Morlaix, Lille, Tourcoing, and was like an apostle, with an heroic soul which gave him such a distinctive appearance.
I got on less well with the Moroccans. The fusilier with the turban who I discovered and who came to sit for me in Montpellier gave me a lot of trouble. He wanted tobacco and I had none. So there was bad temper, refusing to pose, invectives, threats almost. It was like being with a barely-restrained jaguar. I was beginning to lose my patience when I suddenly blurted out a loud "Attention!" which had an immediate effect. He took up his position in a completely subservient way and stayed there, not moving until I gave the order "At ease!".
My work was interrupted in the Summer of 1918 by our habitual stay at Sepey. In the Autumn we went back to Marseille where I found models from the categories I still lacked. It was during this second period in the South of France that I completed the portraits of Colonel Whittle (No. 52), an officer of the British Army. He kindly posed for me in the tiny attic where I had my studio on the fourth floor, Number ?4 Place de la Corderie (at the home of the Mesdamoiselles Meyer). The place was very modest but I have happy memories of working under the skylight through which the blazing light of the South illuminated the faces of my models.
After the Colonel, my Scottish Corporal (No. 58), then a fusillier wearing his "lampshade", a khaki jacket, with an air of melancholy and fatigue. Then the Zouave, back from Morocco, capable of anything, even to sacrifice himself if the need arose. The English sailor with misty grey eyes full of the sea (No. 55)... the Jamaiquais with huge King-Charles eyes (No. 70). The little Siamese (no. 72), chauffeur to the King, who later searched us out in Paris and became our friend, called us his dear parents and when he was leaving told us he would send diamonds for the twins. The big lad from Vaud with the neck of a giraffe (No. 31), the Corsican sailor (No. 24), beautiful as a companion of Ulysses... Gustave Lehel from the British Marine Infantry (No. 59), with a strange appearance like a Dickens character.
On 16th November 1918 after the noise and spectacle of the Armistice celebrations, we returned to Paris where so many things awaited us. We had hardly settled back into our appartment, which our dear (boy) twins had got ready for us, when I went in search of more models. At the barracks of La Pépinière (Place St Augustin) I found a splendid Breton sailor from the Gueydon (No. 23)(an armoured cruiser) with a powerful neck and firm, full muscles. Then I went looking for a Czecho-Slovak and that is when ill-luck overcame me. I caught cold while in a freezing office on Rue Bonaparte and came home feeling stricken. That was the start of the flu which stayed with me for weeks and months and which carried away our beloved son.
At the beginning of February 1919 I attempted a first outing and brought back a typical "poilu" from the Séminaire du St Sulpice; a Parisian, born in Constantinople. It was the start of a return to work which led up to the exhibition we put on at the Musée de Luxembourg on 3rd May: Allies of the Great War, around 80 portraits, the first stage of the 100 planned for the future.
Little by little the sittings grew longer and longer. It was of course not possible to use the studio which was too far away from home. And so these soldiers came to our appartment, to the bedroom of dear Daniel. I realise now that most of the soldiers I had chosen because of their good looks, personality and ethnic characteristics, were also pleasant and trustworthy. Of the 88 models who passed through my studio only two were unpleasant and untrustworthy: the two Moroccans, Mohammed Meb Bidouan from Casablanca and Ouled Zigiane, from the Rif mountains. Both came from the Depot of Fusilliers at Arles. All the others were discreet, polite, grateful. Among them I met religious souls, both Catholic and Protestant, men of superior morals who were pledged to resist the temptations of the barracks. The picture this accorded me of human nature gave me cause for optimism.
...a special mention for the junior officer of the British artillery, Kimberley (No. 56) from Hampstead, a confirmed teetotaller who in the name of abstinence had gone through the streets of London carrying banners and placards ... and Sergeant Parker No. 57) from Coventry who ran a Sunday School ... the parables were bench-marks ... the other Parker (No. 61), a Canadian, of indigenous heritage, prouder of his blood than any nouveau-riche might be of a connection with the aristocracy. The New Caledonian (No. 38) who sang protestant hymns while eating cherries in our bedroom at Marseille ("Onward we go, joyful, ever joyful, towards the land of spiritual bliss") ... The Siberian Sergeant-Major (No. 90), young with an Asiatic profile, sensitive and emotional...the Breton sailor Galoudec (No. 25), who thought himself Christian because he believed in ghosts and wrote me these charming lines: "My health continues to be marvellous. I often think of the happy times I spent with you, telling my life-story." ... the Indian Sikh (No. 63) who refused to be paid for sitting and asked me to give the money to my "little boy" Tony, whose photograph he had seen ... the Portuguese (No. 96), like a toreador, a mad musician, playing frantic arpeggios and jerky cinema marches on our piano, a sardine manufacturer (if that's the phrase) with the glorious name of José d'Azévédo Lobo da Veiga, a magnificent and unselfconscious character ... the Montenegran soldier Mirko Milichkovitch (No. 97) who Julia met in the Metro where she brazenly asked him on my behalf to sit for a few hours and who afterwards insisted on buying her a drink in a café on the Avenue Wagram! The charming American nurse Miss Harriet Woods-Eoff who became misty-eyed when she saw her portrait and exclaimed , "Oh, it is too much for me!" - The New-Zealander McChesney (No. 60), Commander Evans (No. 73), Captain of an American Navy ship who I saw in the congregation at the Oratoire and who later fell into my net...Rev. Rouillon (No. 9), Catholic almoner who told me about his life in the Holy Land where he was reading Bible Studies. He was the friend of Maurice X? who introduced him to me. Dones (No. 82), the sculptor from Milan who I met in the boulevards, whose energetic and serious physiognomy was so striking, the dramatic shape of his profile like an eagle, who I accosted unapologetically in the street, knowing that I had found this champion mountaineer, a man who climbed to the top of the dome in Milan and who was currently excelling in the trials at Brussels.
Going further back in the series of my work, the little Madagascan, Emile de Tananarive (No. 47), with his eyes like a gazelle's, stooping and submissive yet who after one sitting, began to challenge me, did not reply to my invitations. I went to find him at the hospital where he was working as a nurse. When I asked him what the problem was he replied tearfully that he had come to France to serve and not to become an artist's dummy.
Then there was Captain Melas (No. 94), Military attaché at the Greek Legion, an old friend and confidant of King Constantine...accomplished, man of the world, fine, cultured and sensitive, he became a regular visitor of ours.
Capt. de Witte (No. 85) who had defended the fort at Antwerp, whom we met in Lausanne in the Summer of 1918, who sat for me several times in the studio at Sepey where we also had the pleasure of meeting his family with whom he had been reunited after several years in captivity.
It was in Montpellier that I first met the Tonkinese fusilier (No. 43) whose face expressed everything that was foreign to our thinking, to our civilisation. There is something like a wild landscape full of dangerous and hostile things in those burning, hostile, anxious eyes, in that firm brow with its short, mobile lines, in that dark colouring 'That's me; handsome, pretty." I was reassured.
General Harts, Commander of the American base in Paris, authorised me to inspect the troops...with a view to choosing some of them as typical of their kind. There they were, unmoving, heads high, eyes front, heels together, and there was I walking along the line, slowly, staring at their faces, scrutinising, analysing, and trying hard to overcome the need to burst out laughing, forcing myself to walk steadily, inexorably. I saw some of them turn pale when, after my examination I pointed them out to the lieutenant. I asked why they were so clearly upset. I realised that these poor lads thought I was some sort of inspector on the lookout for wrongdoers.
And so, step by step, session by session, the initial collection of 80 was completed, in spite of all sorts of difficulties and hurdles created by my state of ill health. *My hope of grouping the series into a single room at the Salon of the Grand Palais had to be abandoned... the opportunity of submitting my work to the public was completely lost, but then Monsieur X offered me a room at the Musée de Luxembourg which was still not re-hung after the dispersal of works which took place when a German invasion was imminent. It was here in especially favourable circumstances that I hung my pastels, from 3rd May to 8th June 1919. The number of visitors was extraordinary; the staff estimated around 15,000. And so it is all the more surprising that the press, invited for Varnishing Day, were completely silent.* (but see **)
This exhibition also marked a fundamental stage in the development of the project which I had begun. I was aiming to complete 100 portraits. Since we came home in October 1919 I had set to work again, following a very helpful encounter. In Place de l'Alma I saw a wonderful example of a foreman. Although he was dressed in civilian clothes everything about him spoke of his being a "Poilu". A Frenchman, even more pronounced than the Alpin. An ex-Territorial with the profile of a Gaul, the authentic representation of rural France ... Entitled "Infantryman" he would occupy the first page of the book. As my nephew Robert wrote about this portrait, "The soldier from the 37th Infantry who appears on the first page of 'Heroes of the Great War' belonged to an archetypal branch of the French army and was himself so typical of the soldier-type, who now is regarded with honour after suffering for so long."
The previous winter, other encounters allowed me to fill the models' chair in the bedroom of our appartment; Lieutenant Stein No. 98), a Pole from the Austrian army, his compatriot Szablinski (No. 99) from Cracow, a defector from the German lines with a conqueror's face that was ironic, brutal, puffed up with pride, resigned to everything and who declared himself ready to buy the whole series of originals! It was also during the occasions of my being housebound due to successive attacks of bronchitis, which affected my heart, that the two Swiss Legionnaires came to sit for me; Sprecher (No. 30) who had been in Morocco and Indo-China, and Dancet (No. 31) from Pully, the young volunteer who signed up in a moment of enthusiasm and proudly wore a red ribbon on his shoulder.
I began to go back to my studio in the winter of 1919-20. Now I needed to mount the collection. My editor, our Marcel, thought that was "probably enough" but other people thought that it lacked some senior offcers. In a way, this would spoil the original simplicity of my plan, which was more impersonal and made up of representative types rather than specific individuals. But then the important thing was to fix for posterity certain faces representing leaders, some medal-wearers from foreign armies. One of the first I approached was Sir Edward Heaton-Ellis (No. 51) who was introduced to me by the British Embassy to which I had resolutely applied; sanguine, powerful, comfortable as I completed three different models...then Vice-Admiral Grassi (No. 80), a fine diplomat attached to the Conseil Supérieur then for America, Admiral Huse (No. 102) a christian scientist and a man of good sense. Then with Admiral Guépratte (No. 3) I found the warmest welcome. This almost legendary and admirable person was described by Robert in the notes of the book...I cannot do better... and General Nivelle (No. 2), généralissime in 1917 then in disgrace in circumstances where politics had played an equivocal part.
I will not extend the list ...at the point of writing (August 1920) only two types are missing... General de Castelnau and Marshall Foch have both promised to sit for me next Autumn. It is very gratifying and a justification after-the-fact for my audacious project.
November 1920: Eugène writes about the miraculous escape of the portraits from the fire which engulfed his studio in rue D'Assas on the night of 25/ 26 October
...That my portraits escaped both the fire and the water is incredible. The firefighter seemed to take no notice of this pile of canvasses, they went right past them. The Floor was running with black water but my collection with three exceptions, was intact. The future (as it might have been) is not desperate.
The first half of Page 16 appears to be a copy of passage * to * above, regarding the exhibition at the Musée de Luxembourg, then:
**...some well-informed people tell me that the reason (for the journalists' silence about the exhibition at the Luxembourg) is quite simple: they assure me that the critics "do nothing without a good reason"; an art dealer went so far as to show me the figure involved in "subsidies" taken openly by principal organisations whose column inches translate into advantage. This theory, once accepted and passed into common practice, means that there is no longer any criticism, no more independent judgement and that, if he doesn't give in to temptation, an artist has to do without the newspapers, something I have got used to.