Thursday, 2 April 2009

Belgians Get To Experience Their Battlefields Through New Zealand Eyes


Works of War Artist Go On Display For the First Time


This Anzac Day, the people of Belgium will be able to experience the battlefields of Flanders for the first time, though the eyes of New Zealand’s Official World War I Artist.

George Edmond Butler was a landscape and portrait painter specialising in oils and watercolours, before he was asked to use his skills to capture the landscape of war.

Joining the New Zealand Division in France in September 1918 as an honorary captain, he carried a sketchbook in which he made pencil drawings of actual operations and war scenes, often under fire.

These sketches were later used as the basis for his many paintings.

Passchendaele Society President, Freddy Declerck, says Butler was not only a gifted artist but also an eye-witness who could express his view in a way which can now be seen by all of us, even today, more than 90 years on.

“We are extremely grateful to have the opportunity to show the people here his colour paintings about our landscape in and just after The Great War.

“There are few pictures of all those places, and of course, none in colour. It is an immense privilege for us to host such a valuable collection portraying our landscape back in time.”

Butler’s works will be on display in a commemorative exchange exhibition in the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917 from April 25th to November 15.

(Passchendaele:The Belgians Have Not Forgotten is currently touring New Zealand. It will open in Christchurch on April 21st.)

It’s believed to be the first time all 26 of Butler’s works will have been on display outside of New Zealand. Certainly it is the first time they will have been seen in Belgium.

It has been said Butler’s war paintings capture the realities of war through a civilian’s eyes, mirroring the view of the New Zealand citizen soldier.

Freddy Declerk says there is no glory, only the stark depiction of waste and loss.

“They are an evocative indictment of war that, ironically, has remained largely unseen by the New Zealand public. “

Butler immigrated with his parents to Wellington, from England, in 1872, when he was 11.

After studying abroad, including at the Antwerp Academy in Belgium, Butler exhibited in Christchurch in 1900, before setting in Dunedin, where he tried unsuccessfully to make a living as a professional artist, eventually returning to England in 1905.

He was recruited to the role of war artist in 1918, in recognition of both his reputation as a painter and his New Zealand connections.

After the war, Butler was privately commissioned by Cabinet Minister, Colonel R. Heaton Rhodes and the New Zealand Divisional Commander, Major General Sir Andrew Russell to do a further series of senior officer portraits and a number of large landscapes of New Zealand exploits on the western front.

The New Zealand Government purchased these works in September 1921.

They will be displayed in Belgium alongside a spectacular sculpture by Auckland ceramic artist, Helen Pollock, using a mix of New Zealand clay and clay from the battlefields of Passchendaele.

“Falls the Shadow” depicts a grove of hands reaching up in a way that suggests aspiration and death against a background of trees stripped bare by the war.

The Passchendaele clay comes from the place the New Zealanders stopped to rest the night before the devastating attack on Bellevue Spur, which cost 845 of our soldier’s lives.

Freddy Declerk describes it as “a fitting reminder of the futile death of young men in an unsurpassed disaster.”

Helen Pollock will be in Passchendaele for the Belgian Anzac Day commemorations.


For more information:

Lauren McKenzie
Communications Advisor
Waimakariri-Zonnebeke Trust
P: 021 22 66 785

For more information on George Butler:
http://warart.archives.govt.nz/GeorgeEdmundButler

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