Sunken road near Solesmes by George Edmund Butler

<em>Sunken road near Solesmes</em> by George Edmund Butler

Sunken road near Solesmes by George Edmund Butler, October 1918.

Burial party at Bellevue near Solesmes, circa1918

Burial party at Bellevue near Solesmes, circa 1918 (click on thumbnail for larger image).

The original version of Sunken Road near Solesmes is a charcoal and watercolour wash sketch painted in October 1918 during the New Zealand advance in the Second Battle of Le Cateau. The sketch roughly outlines the shape of the road captured by the New Zealanders and the debris piled along its sides.

In the second version of this painting, completed in 1920, Butler has strewn the road with dead German soldiers. The addition of these bodies heightens the drama of the painting, indicating that a fierce battle took place at this site. The small bodies also give a sense of scale to the high banks on either side of the road. Butler does not include any New Zealand soldiers among the dead. This omission was not due to the British War Office’s censorship of dead Allied soldiers in official photographs and paintings because by 1920 these wartime restrictions had lapsed. New Zealand casualties did occur in the battle around Solesmes and these were graphically recorded by Butler in Burial Party at Bellevue, near Solesmes (1918) (see above).

The 1920 version of A Sunken Road near Solesmes was painted for the New Zealand War Memorial Museum to commemorate the successful assault made by the New Zealand Division. Because of this context Butler chose to downplay the human cost of battle for his New Zealand audience.

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