Art and the Second World War

Monica Bohm-Duchen. Princeton Univ., $49.50 (288p) ISBN 978-0-691-14561-7
In this well-researched, clear-eyed assessment of art’s relationship to the war that “has left the darkest and most indelible mark on modern society,” Bohm-Duchen (After Auschwitz) presents a sobering overview of the official and nonofficial fine art produced in warring nations: Spain (with the civil war treated as a prologue to WWII), England, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, America, France, Italy, the Soviet Union, Germany, China, and Japan. Focused on paintings, sculpture, drawings, and prints, the book is particularly impressive for the obscure work it covers, such as that by German and Austrian refugees interned on the Isle of Man, sketches from Japanese-Americans interned in the U.S., and drawings by Italian partisans in combat. In addition to commenting on critical issues such as “the constant risk of aestheticizing the horror,” the author analyzes the art of the Holocaust, China’s bleak woodcut cartoons from the Second Sino-Japanese War, the revival of history and landscape painting in Stalinist Russia, U.S. soldiers’ visual responses to devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and more. Bohm-Duchen punctuates the narrative with astute insights, for example, noting that “the morally murky nature of French culture under occupation” might explain Paris’ post-war decline as the heart of the art world. Brimming with chilling full-color images, this handsome volume reaffirms the importance of WWII in relation to the fine arts. Illus. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 11/11/2013
Release date: 12/01/2013
Genre: Nonfiction
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