A Paroxysm of Battle Painting: Adriano de Sousa Lopes and the Great War

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Scholarly literature on First World War artists tends to focus largely on the strategies of the avant-garde – and less on official war artists’ achievements. The overall image emerging is the defeat of conventional artists’ approach and battle painting’s loss of aura, canceled out by a massified and industrial conflict. However, I argue in this article that the work of Adriano de Sousa Lopes (1879-1944) – the Portuguese Expeditionary Corps’s only official war artist in France – is quite effective in setting a narrative of heroism and self-sacrifice in modern warfare, as well as staging a politics of mourning, as a mean to respond to specific traumatic events – namely the battle of La Lys (9 April 1918) – which were a serious blow to the country’s intervention on the Western Front. The works discussed here – a set of seven monumental paintings for the Great War rooms at the Military Museum of Lisbon – are largely unknown to the international scholarly community.
First I introduce in general terms the main Allied schemes in the commissioning of official war art, in order to stress the originality of the painter’s position as Captain of the Portuguese Army’s Artistic Service, and describe the goals he was expected to achieve on his mission in Flanders. Second, drawing on Sousa Lopes’s achievements, I argue that the aesthetics of his project – its paroxysm I propose – plays on the dilution of History as event, inspired both by his own battle experience and the excessive rhetoric of images popularized in mass circulation magazines such as the French weekly L’Illustration. Finally, with reference to primary material in military archives and war literature, I suggest these works resonate with the ideology of a patriotic revival promoted by a circle of intellectuals the artist met at the trenches. Officers like Augusto Casimiro and Jaime Cortesão, both poets, were eminent members of Renascença Portuguesa (Portuguese Renaissance), – a movement that was the intellectual avant-garde supporting the country’s intervention in France. This relation has been overlooked, but is important because it suggests that these paintings respond to a political debate regarding the country’s intervention on the Western battlefields: as happened generally with the memoirs appearing in the post-war period, Sousa Lopes sought to memorialize the dignity of the war effort and the possibility of a patriotic consensus with regard to public mourning and commemoration.
By examining these topics, we will be able to grasp the singular significance of these paintings in the international context, relating Sousa Lopes’s personal view of the Great War – centred on the common soldier’s experience in trench warfare – with the larger than life-size mise-en-scène staged in the 1930s, with his paintings at the Portuguese military museum.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationConstructing the memory of war in visual culture since 1914
Subtitle of host publicationthe eye on war
EditorsAnn Murray
Place of PublicationNew York and London
Number of pages11
ISBN (Print)978-1-138-50297-0
Publication statusPublished - 2018

Publication series

NameRoutledge Research in Art and Politics


  • First World War
  • Battle Painting
  • 20th Century Portuguese Art
  • War Artist


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