American Expeditionary Forces Art

The American Expeditionary Forces (AEF), commanded by General John Pershing, were the armed forces that the United States sent to Europe during World War I.  Because the American troops needed training, very few made it over to Europe before 1918.  Most of the AEF fought alongside Allied troops in France, but a small number served on the Italian front as well.

The AEF had 8 official artists who documented its activities during the war: William James Alyward, Walter Jack Duncan, Harvey Thomas Dunn, George Matthews Harding, Wallace Morgan, Ernest Clifford Peixotto, J. André Smith, and Harry Everett Townsend.  The artwork produced by these artists offers a vivid glimpse of the horrors and destruction of World War I and its devastating effects in Europe.  It also gives a window into AEF movements, activities, locations, and its involvement in the local war effort.  Some of the AEF art highlighted in this section shows women actively contributing to the war effort—making nets and camouflage, working in salvage depots, etc.  However, the artwork also shows women as civilians in war, both as innocent bystanders and as firsthand victims of the war.  These different roles in which women appear highlight the many ways that women were involved in and experienced World War I.

The War Department transferred the official AEF artwork to the Smithsonian in January 1920.

 

Further Resources

Alfred Cornebise, Art from the Trenches: America’s Uniformed Artists in World War I (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2015).

Records of the American Expeditionary Forces (World War I), 1848-1942, National Archives and Records Administration.

Smithsonian Collections Search Center: "Official Art from the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I."

Gene Burkett and Jan Hodges' series on World War I AEF Art:

Charcoal and ink wash sketch on blue-gray paper. Women are making nets and camouflage material in a large tent-like structure in Dijon, France. The structure appears to be fortified with sand bags at one end.
Description
Charcoal and ink wash sketch on blue-gray paper. Women are making nets and camouflage material in a large tent-like structure in Dijon, France. The structure appears to be fortified with sand bags at one end. There is a label attached to the bottom center of the sketch that reads: "MAKING NETS AND CAMOUFLAGE MATERIAL/Central Camouflage Depot at Dijon/BY E. PEIXOTTO/TRANSFERRED FROM THE WAR DEPARTMENT/3004."
Location
Currently not on view
date made
ca 1918
associated date
1917-1918
associated person
War Department
artist
Peixotto, Ernest Clifford
ID Number
AF.25846
catalog number
25846
accession number
64592
Charcoal and ink wash sketch on paper. A group of women, some standing on benches, are making camouflage nets at the Central Camouflage Depot in Dijon, France.
Description
Charcoal and ink wash sketch on paper. A group of women, some standing on benches, are making camouflage nets at the Central Camouflage Depot in Dijon, France. These nets were made of pieces of painted burlap tied to wire and were used to disguise artillery positions.
Location
Currently not on view
date made
1918
associated person
War Department
artist
Peixotto, Ernest Clifford
ID Number
AF.25893
catalog number
25893
accession number
64592
A charcoal and watercolor sketch on paper of a salvage depot at St. Pierre, France. Below a backdrop of five large windows, men and women are working in a large open space. The women are mostly engaged in carrying and sorting material.
Description
A charcoal and watercolor sketch on paper of a salvage depot at St. Pierre, France. Below a backdrop of five large windows, men and women are working in a large open space. The women are mostly engaged in carrying and sorting material. A group of men are on top of a pile of salvage on the left side of the drawing.
Location
Currently not on view
date made
1918-07
associated date
1917-1918
associated person
War Department
artist
Smith, J. Andre
ID Number
AF.25997
catalog number
25997
accession number
64592
Ink wash sketch on paper. Interior scene of a building with exposed rafters; barrels grouped and stacked in various places. Women working on the left. A soldier stands among some barrels on the right.
Description
Ink wash sketch on paper. Interior scene of a building with exposed rafters; barrels grouped and stacked in various places. Women working on the left. A soldier stands among some barrels on the right. The catalog card reads "Sketch showing the paint shop in the central American camouflage depot at Dijon."
Location
Currently not on view
date made
1918
associated person
War Department
artist
Peixotto, Ernest Clifford
ID Number
AF.25883
catalog number
25883
accession number
64592
Charcoal, ink wash, and gouache drawing on beige textured paper. The work depicts refugees returning to a shell torn village in Hatton Chattel, France. Older men, women, children, sheep and a mule laden with clothing gather in front of a severely damaged building.
Description
Charcoal, ink wash, and gouache drawing on beige textured paper. The work depicts refugees returning to a shell torn village in Hatton Chattel, France. Older men, women, children, sheep and a mule laden with clothing gather in front of a severely damaged building. An American soldier is standing in the center of the drawing. In the foreground on the left, a man in dark clothes stands looking at the crowd.
Location
Currently not on view
date made
1918
associated person
War Department
artist
Aylward, William James
ID Number
AF.25664
catalog number
25664
accession number
64592
Charcoal, wash, and gouache drawing on card. The work depicts a street scene in Neufchâteau, France. A woman carrying a basket walks down in the road, facing the viewer. A church's tower dominates the background.Currently not on view
Description
Charcoal, wash, and gouache drawing on card. The work depicts a street scene in Neufchâteau, France. A woman carrying a basket walks down in the road, facing the viewer. A church's tower dominates the background.
Location
Currently not on view
date made
1918
associated person
War Department
artist
Aylward, William James
ID Number
AF.25669
catalog number
25669
accession number
64592
Graphite, black crayon, sanguine crayon, and white gouache sketch. Village scene with traditional houses around a road. Several children, a woman, and a dog are in the road, along with two American soldiers and a horse.
Description
Graphite, black crayon, sanguine crayon, and white gouache sketch. Village scene with traditional houses around a road. Several children, a woman, and a dog are in the road, along with two American soldiers and a horse. On the far right of the sketch, several men are sitting together next to a fence. The sketch is done on dark gray wove paper and mounted on tan card ruled with decorative lines. Written beneath the sketch, on the tan card, is the following inscription: "An invaded village in Germany-/Zone of the American Army of Occupation".
Location
Currently not on view
date made
1918-12-15
associated date
1917-1918
associated person
War Department
maker
Duncan, Walter Jack
ID Number
AF.25704A
catalog number
25704A
accession number
64592
Charcoal, crayon, gouache, and blue wash drawing on heavy textured cream wove paper. The work depicts American soldiers marching German ("Boche") prisoners of war (unarmed, in green uniforms) through a street in a recaptured village on the Marne.
Description
Charcoal, crayon, gouache, and blue wash drawing on heavy textured cream wove paper. The work depicts American soldiers marching German ("Boche") prisoners of war (unarmed, in green uniforms) through a street in a recaptured village on the Marne. A woman is sitting inside one of the badly damaged buildings lining the street. Deceased German soldiers are lying on the ground in the foreground.
Location
Currently not on view
date made
1918-07
1918-07-01
1918-07-01
associated date
1917-1918
associated person
War Department
artist
Harding, George Matthews
ID Number
AF.25747
catalog number
25747
accession number
64592
Charcoal and color sketch on paper. Large wagon in foreground. On the right, sitting up against a building, a line of American troops and French women are stripping willow boughs for baskets. Team of mules on the left. Trees in the background and hills in the distance.
Description
Charcoal and color sketch on paper. Large wagon in foreground. On the right, sitting up against a building, a line of American troops and French women are stripping willow boughs for baskets. Team of mules on the left. Trees in the background and hills in the distance. A label affixed to the lower right corner of the drawing reads: "1. x16392/IN BILLETS. American boys helping French women strip willow/bows [sic] for baskets./Reherry." The sketch is affixed to a larger piece of cardboard.
Location
Currently not on view
date made
ca 1918
associated date
1917-1918
associated person
War Department
maker
Morgan, Wallace
ID Number
AF.25770
catalog number
25770
accession number
64592
Charcoal sketch with some color on some of the figures. Soldiers, men, women, and a horse all gathered at a water trough. The men wash up and the women are doing laundry.
Description
Charcoal sketch with some color on some of the figures. Soldiers, men, women, and a horse all gathered at a water trough. The men wash up and the women are doing laundry. Behind the trough, on the side of a building is a sign that reads "EAU MAUVAISE" (loosely translated to mean "non-potable water"). In the left background is a soldier reading a newspaper and smoking a pipe; more soldiers are behind him.
Location
Currently not on view
date made
ca 1918
associated date
1917-1918
associated person
War Department
artist
Morgan, Wallace
ID Number
AF.25788
catalog number
25788
accession number
64592
Charcoal sketch on blue-gray paper. The work depicts a group of soldiers billeted in a cell of the old Monastery of Rangeval near Boucq, France.
Description
Charcoal sketch on blue-gray paper. The work depicts a group of soldiers billeted in a cell of the old Monastery of Rangeval near Boucq, France. A drawing on the wall above the sleeping pallets shows France (the woman) killing "the German monster." Soldiers are lounging on cots beneath the drawing. A line of drying laundry hangs on the left side of the sketch.
Location
Currently not on view
date made
ca 1918
associated date
1917-1918
associated person
War Department
artist
Peixotto, Ernest Clifford
ID Number
AF.25809
catalog number
25809
accession number
64592
Charcoal sketch with ink wash. The work depicts General Pershing greeting crowds of people in a square in Saint-Mihiel, France. Behind the general is a line of French soldiers, both mounted and on foot, in formation.Currently not on view
Description
Charcoal sketch with ink wash. The work depicts General Pershing greeting crowds of people in a square in Saint-Mihiel, France. Behind the general is a line of French soldiers, both mounted and on foot, in formation.
Location
Currently not on view
date made
1918-09
associated date
1917-1918
date depicted in sketch
1918-09-13
associated person
War Department
depicted
Pershing, John J.
artist
Peixotto, Ernest Clifford
ID Number
AF.25828
catalog number
25828
accession number
64592
Ink wash sketch on paper. The drawing depicts a street in the shadow of the buildings on the left side of the street. Two American soldiers are in the drawing: one in the far left foreground, and one walking in the center of the street. Women in the street behind the soldier.
Description
Ink wash sketch on paper. The drawing depicts a street in the shadow of the buildings on the left side of the street. Two American soldiers are in the drawing: one in the far left foreground, and one walking in the center of the street. Women in the street behind the soldier. A flag flies from one of the buildings in the background; it appears to be a French flag. The catalog card reads: "Town in German Alsace now in the American Zone and patrolled by American Military police. Massevaux in the Doller Valley."
Location
Currently not on view
date made
1918-05
associated person
War Department
artist
Peixotto, Ernest Clifford
ID Number
AF.25890
catalog number
25890
accession number
64592
Charcoal drawing on paper. Two American soldiers and a woman stand in front of a large building in the town of Bramme, a village on the Mosel River. There are a few other people dotting the background of this World War I village street scene.Currently not on view
Description
Charcoal drawing on paper. Two American soldiers and a woman stand in front of a large building in the town of Bramme, a village on the Mosel River. There are a few other people dotting the background of this World War I village street scene.
Location
Currently not on view
date made
ca 1918
associated date
1917-1918
associated person
War Department
artist
Smith, J. Andre
ID Number
AF.25954
catalog number
25954
accession number
64592
Charcoal and ink wash sketch on paper. This rough sketch depicts a village street with a camouflage apparatus hung over the street. Soldiers are in the thoroughfare, under the camouflage screen.
Description
Charcoal and ink wash sketch on paper. This rough sketch depicts a village street with a camouflage apparatus hung over the street. Soldiers are in the thoroughfare, under the camouflage screen. The museum's catalogue card for this drawing reads, "The road through Merviller is on the slope of a hill and is exposed to German observation. But by the use overhead camouflage screening, one strip of which is here shown, the traffic along this road is entirely concealed."
Location
Currently not on view
date made
1918-04
associated date
1917-1918
associated person
War Department
artist
Smith, J. Andre
ID Number
AF.26014
catalog number
26014
accession number
64592
Pencil and watercolor sketch on paper. American soldiers, mounted and on foot, move through the square of this small French town. An ambulance is in the right foreground. This scene was captured at the end of the First World War.Currently not on view
Description
Pencil and watercolor sketch on paper. American soldiers, mounted and on foot, move through the square of this small French town. An ambulance is in the right foreground. This scene was captured at the end of the First World War.
Location
Currently not on view
date made
1918-11
artist
Smith, J. Andre
ID Number
AF.26051
catalog number
26051
accession number
64592
Ink wash sketch on paper, of a street lined by ruined buildings. The view is from the inside of a shell-torn building and looks to the opposite side of the street.
Description
Ink wash sketch on paper, of a street lined by ruined buildings. The view is from the inside of a shell-torn building and looks to the opposite side of the street. A woman, stooped and holding the hand of a small child, passes an American soldier in the street.
Location
Currently not on view
date made
1918
associated person
War Department
artist
Peixotto, Ernest Clifford
ID Number
AF.25861
catalog number
25861
accession number
64592
Graphite, brush and ink wash sketch. Sketch of trucks lined up in a town square. People and soldiers are depicted; one woman with a child carries an umbrella. Two small dogs in front of the line of trucks. Hills and clouds in background.
Description
Graphite, brush and ink wash sketch. Sketch of trucks lined up in a town square. People and soldiers are depicted; one woman with a child carries an umbrella. Two small dogs in front of the line of trucks. Hills and clouds in background. Sketch is done on white wove paper that is affixed to a larger piece of off-white card.
Location
Currently not on view
date made
1918-05-18
associated date
1917-1918
associated person
War Department
maker
Duncan, Walter Jack
ID Number
AF.25694
catalog number
25694
accession number
64592
Graphite, brush and ink wash, and black crayon sketch. Village scene of a road and a large building. Three men walk down the road followed by a third carrying a rifle. Tall smokestack, emitting smoke, in background. Two women in the far left of the drawing.
Description
Graphite, brush and ink wash, and black crayon sketch. Village scene of a road and a large building. Three men walk down the road followed by a third carrying a rifle. Tall smokestack, emitting smoke, in background. Two women in the far left of the drawing. The sketch is done on off-white wove paper that is mounted on off-white card. There is a label that is affixed to the bottom edge of the sketch and also the card mount. It is glued over another typed label.
Location
Currently not on view
date made
1918-05-15
associated date
1917-1918
associated person
War Department
maker
Duncan, Walter Jack
ID Number
AF.25695
catalog number
25695
accession number
64592
Pastel with crayon, wash, and gouache on heavy white card. French village scene with a pastry shop in the foreground.Currently not on view
Description
Pastel with crayon, wash, and gouache on heavy white card. French village scene with a pastry shop in the foreground.
Location
Currently not on view
date made
1918
associated person
War Department
artist
Aylward, William James
ID Number
AF.25668
catalog number
25668
accession number
64592
Charcoal, crayon, watercolor, and gouache on heavy white card. The work depicts several buildings on a street in a village near Neufchâteau, France. The buildings are intact and not shell-torn.
Description
Charcoal, crayon, watercolor, and gouache on heavy white card. The work depicts several buildings on a street in a village near Neufchâteau, France. The buildings are intact and not shell-torn. The painting shows the view down a road which leads through village.
Location
Currently not on view
date made
1918
associated person
War Department
artist
Aylward, William James
ID Number
AF.25646
catalog number
25646
accession number
64592

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