Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson

La Mitrailleuse


In Tate Britain

Oil paint on canvas
Support: 610 × 508 mm
frame: 777 × 670 × 90 mm
Presented by the Contemporary Art Society 1917

Display caption

Nevinson aligned himself with the Italian futurists who celebrated and embraced the violence and mechanised speed of the modern age. But his experience as an ambulance driver in the First World War changed his view. In his paintings of the Front, the soldiers are reduced to a series of angular planes and grey colouring. Here, they appear almost like machines themselves, losing their individuality, even their humanity, as they seem to fuse with the machine gun which gives this painting its title.

Gallery label, September 2016

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Catalogue entry


Inscr. ‘C. R. W. Nevinson’ b.l.
Canvas, 24×20 (61×51).
Presented by the Contemporary Art Society 1917.
Coll: C.A.S., 1916 (see below).
Exh: A.A.A., Eighth London Salon, Grafton Galleries, March 1916 (101); Leicester Galleries, September–October 1916 (50).
Lit: W. Sickert, ‘O Matre Pulchra’ in Burlington Magazine, XXIX, 1916, p.35; Konody, 1917, pp.22–3, repr. p.35; C. Lewis Hind, ‘An Appreciation’, in exh. cat., Bourgeois Galleries, New York, 1920; Nevinson, 1937, pp.82, 84, 91, 127 and 160–2.
Repr: John Russell, From Sickert to 1948, 1948, pl.65; Studio, CLXII, 1961, p.49.

Painted in London during the artist's honeymoon on leave from the R.A.M.C., 1915. Exhibited in 1916 as ‘Mitrailleuse: an Illustration’, together with ‘Violence: an Abstraction’ (100) and ‘Night: Light: Crowd: an Interpretation’ (102). It was described by Walter Sickert in 1916 as ‘the most authoritative and concentrated utterance on the war in the history of painting’.

According to the catalogue of the exhibition at the Bourgeois Galleries, New York, 1920, and the artist's Paint and Prejudice, 1937, p.84, the painting was presented to the C.A.S. by an anonymous American donor, but according to the C.A.S. Report 1914–19, p.4, it was purchased by the C.A.S.

In 1925 the artist, who had by then abandoned his early interest in Futurism and Cubism, asked that this picture should no longer be kept on view; a leakage of his request caused a short-lived sensation in many London and provincial papers of 24 to 26 October.

A pen drawing, possibly for the painting but more probably for the subsequent engraving, was exhibited with the N.E.A.C., summer 1916 (76), and either this drawing or the engraving at the Leicester Galleries, September–October 1916 (37); the drawing later belonged to Arnold Bennett and was bought at Sotheby's, 26 April 1961 (39), by Sir David Scott.

Published in:
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, London 1964, II

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