Art has often been drafted into service for war.
A century ago today, April 6, 1917, the United States declared war on Germany, entering World War I.
The U.S. mobilized more than 4 million soldiers for the war, which had already been underway for nearly 3 years. About 110,000 U.S. soldiers were killed, including 43,000 from influenza.
World War I created a massive federal government expansion to support the war effort and manage a significant increase in the size of the U.S. Armed Forces.
That’s where military recruiting posters come in. Before radio and TV, most advertising was strictly visual.
Many of the posters are now iconic pieces of American art and history and were so well received, some were revived for WWII.
Many of the artists who created these posters were as interesting as their work.
Charles Buckles Falls, also known as C.B. Falls (December 10, 1874 –
April 15, 1960) was from Ft. Wayne, In., but left as quickly as he could. Falls moved to Chicago, beginning his career as an architect’s assistant and a sketch artist for the Chicago Tribune. Falls moved to New York City around 1900.
Known for his skill as a letter-illustrator, Falls often used large, “eccentric” black letters, and is also known for his woodblock prints. Falls incorporated brighter colors of blue, green, orange, and yellow, to contrast his black-inked woodcuts, unlike most woodblock artists of his time
A man of many talents, he designed fabrics, furniture, and even trade bindings. He was also involved in helping design scenery and costumes for the American Society of Illustrators, the Palace Theatre and Fifth Avenue Theatre in New York.
In 1914, Falls wrote, directed, and starred in a play, “Perfectly Happy,” that was produced at the Berkeley Theatre.
After the 1930s his illustration style fell out of favor, but he continued top produce work.
The aptly named James Montgomery Flagg (June 18, 1877 – May 27, 1960) worked in media ranging from fine art painting to cartooning, but is best remembered for his political posters
Flagg’s most famous work was a 1917 U.S, Army recruiting poster.
Inspired directly by a British recruitment poster showing Lord Kitchener in a similar pose, Flagg’s poster showed Uncle Sam pointing at the viewer with the caption “I Want YOU for U.S. Army”.
More than four million copies of the poster on were printed during World War I. It was revived for World War II.
At his peak, Flagg was reported to have been the highest paid magazine illustrator in America.
Flagg painted portraits influenced by John Singer Sargent’s style. Flagg’s sitters included Mark Twain and Ethel Barrymore. His portrait of boxer Jack Dempsey now hangs in the Great Hall of the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C..
Howard Chandler Christy (January 10, 1872 – March 3, 1952), famous for the “Christy Girl” – a successor to the “Gibson Girl” – was a popular Jazz Age portrait painter. From the 1920s until the 1940s, Christy’s likenesses of congressmen, senators, industrialists, movies stars, and socialites were well known.
He painted Lt. Col. Theodore Roosevelt, presidents Harding, Coolidge, Hoover, Roosevelt, and Truman. Other famous portraits include William Randolph Hearst, the Prince of Wales (Edward the VIII), Eddie Rickenbacker, Benito Mussolini, Prince Umberto, and Amelia Earhart.
Christy first attracted attention with his realistic illustrations and several articles as a combat artist during the Spanish–American War published in Scribner’s, Harper’s, and Leslie’s Weekly magazines, and in Collier’s Weekly.
His poster “Gee I wish I were a Man, I’d Join the Navy,” 1917, was one of his most famous works. In 1940, he painted the Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States, which is installed in House wing of the US capitol.
Chicago artist Richard Fayerweather Babcock (June 4, 1887 – Feb. 25, 1954) was one of the lesser known of the WWI poster artists.
After moving from his birthplace, Iowa, to Chicago, Babcock studied at the Art Institute and Munich, Germany.Babcock found success in providing illustrations for the Encyclopedia Britannica and World Book Encyclopedia encyclopedias. we also on the faculty of the American Academy of Art. An avid musician, he was a member of a chamber music ensemble.
Babcock apparently had no fear of using phallic symbols in his recruiting posters.