The art of commemoration

This hook presents a painting in which the ghosts of soldiers who had died on the beaches of Belgium are gathered as they listen to carillon bells. Prints of the painting were hung in many New Zealand schoolrooms during the 1930s and early 40s. The image comforted families still dealing with the loss of their loved ones by suggesting that those who had died were consoled by acts of commemoration and/or remembrance.

Carillon by William Longstaff, 1932.

Carillon by William Longstaff, 1932. Archives New Zealand. AAAC 898 NCWA Q197

Context

This painting shows the ghosts of New Zealand soldiers gathered on a Belgian beach. They are listening to carillon bells ringing out in New Zealand. Prints of the painting were hung in many New Zealand schoolrooms during the 1930s and early 40s. The image comforted families still dealing with the loss of their loved ones by suggesting that those who had died were consoled by acts of commemoration and/or remembrance. The artist, William Longstaff, was an Australian official war artist and was also in charge of camouflage operations for the Australian forces.

Possible discussion questions

  • What feelings does Longstaff’s painting evoke in you? Why?
  • Which factors of the artwork reference historical fact?
  • Why did governments fund war artists in the First World War? Does this painting qualify as a “war painting”? Why or why not?
  • TF
  • Print.
  • Share.