Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2015

Access Restrictions

Access restricted until 07/13/2019

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Art History

First Advisor

Joni L. Kinsey


During World War I, art produced in the United States shaped various opinions about the nation's role in global affairs, whether that art supported isolation or intervention. The U.S. government called on its artists to rally public support, and for the first time in its history, the military officially commissioned eight men, most of whom were classically-trained artists who worked as illustrators, to go to the front lines on its behalf. The AEF 8, as the official artists are commonly called, created approximately 500 artworks illustrating all aspects of the First World War, which were used in the popular press and exhibitions in an attempt to connect Americans "over here" with the efforts of the soldiers "over there." By uncovering the Army's dilemma of how to visually depict a controversial war, how the military used these images, and how the public responded to them, a new understanding of early twentieth century American art comes to light, linking the conflicting approaches of pictorial representation in early American modernism.

By the spring of 1918, the eight illustrators landed in Europe and began their service as captains in the Army Engineer Corps. These men--William Aylward (1875-1956), Walter Jack Duncan (1881-1941), Harvey Dunn (1884-1952), George Harding (1882-1959), Wallace Morgan (1873-1948), Ernest Peixotto (1869-1940), J. André Smith (1880-1959), and Harry Townsend (1879-1941)--had unique access to locales and opportunities during the Great War. Back home, the U.S. government rallied other artists and effectively utilized their images, either in poster, print advertisement, film, or photographic form, to elicit support for the war. The Army hoped the official combat artworks would do the same, as well as become a visual and historical record of the war.

This recognition of illustration's ability to persuade--and document--coincides with the rise of advertising, illustrated books and periodicals, and new printing technologies that occurred at the fin de siècle and into the 1910s. Most illustrators received decent wages for their work, and a few reached a level of popularity that garnered them significant salaries. Yet, many in the "high art" world considered the work of commercial artists and illustrators as less significant than that in the fine arts and, furthermore, denigrated the status of the professional fine artist. However, the skills of an illustrator--to be thorough yet quick, efficient yet detailed, and truthful yet artistic--were suited perfectly for combat art production, and the occupational limitations or criticisms of being a commercial artist seemed moot in the minds of those who commissioned the AEF 8.

Considering the amount of time, effort, and funding the War Department extended to the creation of this new corps of combat artists, one must question what became of the art, what its purpose was, and if it fulfilled the mission stipulated by the Army, the patron for these eight artists. The Army desired that the art reveal the hard work and hardships of the common soldier to the American public, thus eliciting support for the war. One way citizens interfaced with the art was through magazines, journals, and books. Another more public form of interaction occurred in the museum setting. The analysis of these platforms presents a broader understanding--both historical and cultural--of the ways in which the official World War I art accomplished or failed in its mission to connect with the American public.


art, combat, first, history, war


xvii, 356 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 336-356).


Copyright © 2015 Ranelle Marie Lueth

Available for download on Saturday, July 13, 2019