During the Somme in 1917 Orpen, an official war artist, described in a letter the horror of corpses lying unburied among the flooded shell holes in a landscape totally empty of life. In his pictures of the blasted battlefields and portraits
of the exhausted, bloody or shell-shocked men, Orpen got physically and emotionally closer to the full horrors of the First World War. Zonnebeke, in Flanders, was the scene of bitter fighting as part of the Passchendaele campaign from June to November 1917. Orpen presents an eerily silent and stylised vision of hell on earth.