Cold Fury

Harshing your mellow since 9/01

Veterans Day

Fascinating piece on French painter Henri Farré, documentarian of the birth of military aviation.

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.

Between 1914 and 1917, Farré traveled to battlefronts and training grounds around France, painting images of aircraft and the men who flew and maintained them. These artistic duties often brought him into great personal peril, such as serving as a gunner at the back of a two-seater airplane, trying to machine-gun a German plane while trying to keep his sketchbook clamped between his knees.

What he saw up in the clouds, as he and his pilot stared at death head-on, often affected him so powerfully that sometimes he would start painting as soon as possible after getting back on the ground, while the colors and light effects he had seen were still fresh in his mind’s eye.

The paintings Farré produced were quite varied, and don’t fit neatly into a single category. Some of the images would not look at all out of place hanging next to a piece by Childe Hassam or Camille Pissarro––all sparkling tones and azure skies. Others are strikingly, violently different, featuring deep blacks and intense flashes of red, green, and yellow, symbolizing things like incendiary bombs or tracer fire. These works exhibit the kind of quick, punctuated, but deliberate brushwork that one sees from Henri Matisse or André Derain.

In 1919, Farré published his memoir of the war, titled after the exhibition and illustrated with a number of his works. He recounted his efforts to get to know (and capture in his art) the men with whom he served, and what aerial combat was really like. It’s an absolute howl of a book, despite its very serious subject matter, because these early flyboys were a riot: tough, smart, and daring, yet sophisticated and nonchalant. Farré was a generation older than they, yet they accepted him as one of their own, because he jumped right into the gung-ho spirit of things with them.

In the book, Farré shares stories of some truly harrowing combat adventures, all the more terrifying when one realizes that there is no cover over the cockpit, no parachute, and no way to survive coming down if you get hit.

No protection from the elements either; I have an old dead-tree biography of Richtofen somewhere around here which has a picture of him suited up beside his famous blood-red DR1 just before a wintertime flight, wearing great bulky furs and cumbersome, elbow-length gloves. I bet he was still damned cold up there even with all that gear on, too. Elsewhere, Aesop wishes his beloved Corps a happy birthday with a picture of the recent MOH ceremony honoring Marine Sgt. Maj. John Canley:

When you look for another service where an 80-year old who retired 30 years ago gets his Medal of Honor, still fits his dress blues, and looks like he could still be on active duty, but don’t find one anywhere else, you’ll know what they mean about “Once A Marine, Always A Marine.”

Heh. S’truth. I’ve known a bunch of Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children over the years, and you could say the same about most of ’em. They may leave the Corps, but the Corps never leaves them.

Oh, and for slope-shouldered pussyboy dumbass Barrack Obama: that’s pronounced “core,” not “corpse,” punk.

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"America is at that awkward stage. It's too late to work within the system, but too early to shoot the bastards." – Claire Wolfe, 101 Things to Do 'Til the Revolution

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