Artist Henri Farré Documented The Birth Of Military Aviation In World War I

Here is William Newton on the artist Henri Farré:

How the French artist and accidental aviator introduced people all over the world to the harsh realities faced by service members during World War I.

As the world marks the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, it’s probably safe to state that no one reading this article had any personal experience of the war to end all wars. Yet one reason this particular war may seem more remote to most Americans today than does, say, World War II, or even the much earlier American Civil War, is the lack of instantly recognizable, prominent art associated with the “Great War” in this country.

There’s still no National World War I monument on the national mall here in Washington, for example, although twice as many Americans died in World War I as did in Vietnam. A notable exception however, can be found in the work of a French painter who settled down in America after his combat days came to an end.

Henri Farré (1871-1934) was born in Foix in southwestern France, close to the border with Catalonia. As a young man, he went to Paris to study painting at the legendary École des Beaux-Arts under the great French Symbolist painter Gustave Moreau (1826-1898).

Stylistically speaking, Farré eschewed the rather spooky art of his master, and instead became something between an Impressionist and a Fauvist. After finishing his studies, Farré moved to Buenos Aires, and for a number of years he led a very comfortable life painting society portraits, landscapes, and mythological nudes while continuing to submit paintings every year for an exhibition at the annual Paris Salon from 1897 to 1914.

When World War I broke out, Farré decided to return home to France and do his part. Because of his artistic skills, he was given a rather interesting military commission to depict the war on canvas. While other artists, such as John Singer Sargent, also saw duty recording events like battles and troop movements during World War I, Farré was asked to record the brand new combat sector of military aviation for posterity. It would prove to be what set him apart from all other artists working at the time.

Read more: The Federalist