Printmaking at the Agnes relives horrors of First World War

New exhibit follows soldiers and civilians through conflict

Image by: Chris Yao
The Printmakers: at War (1914-1918) is on exhibit at the Agnes Etherington  Art Centre until Dec. 2

Artistic interpretations of the war to end all wars aren’t hard to find. 

Paintings, books, songs and films thoroughly documented the experiences of the war, but a new exhibit at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre presents a dissenting new vision of it.

The exhibit, Printmakers at War (1914-1918), depicts the prints of soldiers and civilians who experienced the war first-hand. The works’ printmakers portray landscapes ravaged by The First World War in black and white etchings. 

It’s a visually haunting representation of peaceful daily life grinding to a halt as the world embarked on one of the largest wars it had ever experienced.

In the history books, the war’s tragedies usually involve the staggering number of deaths, the terror of the battles and the sound of bullets and shells firing and exploding on the battlefield. 

The period is filled with countless stories and experiences of soldiers, civilians, and survivors.  

But the Printmakers at War (1914-1918) exhibit offers a unique retelling of the war from those with first-hand experience through its black-and-white landscape prints. 

It portrays its vistas of the Great War’s ravaged landscapes with simple etchings. The small exhibit displays multiple prints made by Muirhead Bone, Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson, Percy John Delf Smith, Paul Nash and many more. 

These printmakers were war artists who produced prints for the sake of political activism. Their work serves as a tool for awareness and education of how war affects its witnesses.

They had to be fully immersed in the war to be able to validly depict it with the brutal honesty seen in the the exhibit.

Each print in the Printmakers of War (1914-1918) provides a different element or scene of wartime horror that an artist endured. 

It’s captured in pieces like “Rain, Lake Zillebeke” by Nash—an ideal example of printmaking. The scratch-like image contains contradicting light and dark to communicate a vengeful landscape full of tragedy and remorse in the wake or anticipation of battle. 

On the flip side, pieces like “Piccadilly Circus” by Bone display the homefront, where the landscape of London remained physically untainted by conflict.  All the same, eyes of civilians were fixed on the sky above the city, as spotlights searched for incoming Zeppelins that might approach with bombs ready to drop. 

Bone was predominantly a propaganda and war artist  who depicted his scenes with the intent of educating civilian populations about the horrors of war.

In all the prints, there’s an element of remorse, vacancy, and memory of the horror endured by the unique war artist. One cannot look at the images without feeling some capacity of the sorrow witnessed and created in the name of educating and informing the world. Printmakers at War (1914-1918) does justice to an almost entirely lost generation of artists and educators. 

The Agnes Etherington Centre’s final words on behalf of the exhibit were simple: the “images serve as warnings for future generations” to be ever conscious of the realities of the Great War. 


Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Printmaking

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