The War to End All Wars: Artists and World War I

Exhibition Website

Jan 21 2017 - Jun 11 2017

When war was declared in the summer of 1914, it was presumed by most that it would be over by that Christmas. But as it dragged on for more than four years of brutal fighting, heavy losses, and unthinkable atrocities, it was hoped that it would in fact be “the war to end all wars.” April 1917 saw the entrance of American forces in support of the Allies. For the centennial anniversary, this exhibition brings together artwork of the period as well as vivid propaganda posters encouraging people to enlist, save money, grow their own gardens, and much more.

When the war finally ended in November 1918, artists from both sides of the conflict put their efforts into recording the war’s aftermath in poignant, often explicit, images that capture the ravages the war had wrought on civilians and soldiers alike. 

The exhibition is drawn from the Johnson’s permanent collection as well as Cornell’s Wortham Military Museum, Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Costume and Textile Collection, and Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation & Archives, and private collections.

This exhibition was curated by Nancy E. Green, the Gale and Ira Drukier Curator of European and American Art, Prints & Drawings, 1800–1945, at the Johnson Museum.

Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website.

 Whether you go or not, Wake Up, America. World War I and the American Poster is a fascinating look at these propaganda artifacts, which can be appreciated today both as graphic masterworks and as illustrations of a tragic historical episode.The "War to End All Wars" did not begin as a popular cause. Americans were reluctant to get involved in what they viewed as Europe's war and reelected Woodrow Wilson on his promise to keep this nation out of it. When war became inevitable, public opinion had to be turned around. To do this, the government mobilized the talents of an incredible cadre of artists to create "pictorial publicity" for all aspects of the war effort - from recruiting to war relief to food and fuel conservation. Artists of the calibre of James Montgomery Flagg, Howard Chandler Christy, Charles Dana Gibson, J.C. Leyendecker and N.C. Wyeth produced an impressive -even magnificent - body of art, yet all but a handful of these posters have been almost totally forgotten. 

In this volume, historian Walton Rawls combines a stirring popular history of America's role in World War I with a remarkable collection of posters that boldly demonstrate their artistic worth. The text, while providing ample art-historical background, concentrates on the all-absorbing historical and political context in which the posters were created.

  • Works on Paper
  • American
  • 20th Century
  • History
  • John Sloan
  • Otto Dix
  • James Montgomery Flagg
  • and others

Exhibition Venues & Dates