Over the centuries Western Europe has been the theater of repeated conflicts. Centuries of Conflict examines how artists have responded to the wars they witnessed. Whether it is Jacques Callot examining the impact of The Thirty Years’ War (1618–1649), or Francisco José Goya Y Lucientes working through the Peninsular War (1808-1864) or the German New Objectivity school of World War I (1914–1918) each artist records the horrific effect of war on humanity.
The Thirty Years’ War was the longest and most destructive religious war. Jacques Callot’s The Miseries and Misfortunes of War published in 1633 does not document a specific campaign. Instead it records the devastating destruction unleased on civilians in Lorraine by Louis XIII’s troops, making it the first anti-war statement in European art. Two centuries later the painter and printmaker Francisco José Goya y Lucientes executed his Disasters of War between 1810 and 1820. Heir to Callot’s series, Goya’s Disasters realistically depicts life-and-death scenes of random violence and brutality by Napoleon’s military on Spanish civilians. However because it was published posthumously in 1863, the series had no impact on the immediate generation.
World War I was the first global conflict where there was simultaneous fighting on several European fronts. Many artists volunteered for service or were conscripted, experiencing battles on the frontline. The first mechanized war, it resulted in massive carnage and total devastation of towns and the landscape. The destructive effect of this first modern war can be gauged by postwar German art labeled Die Neue Sachlichket (New Objectivity) represented in the work of George Grosz, Otto Dix, Max Beckmann, Erich Heckel and Käthe Kollwitz. Their realistic style reflects the artists’ personal experience and viewpoints during and after the Great War.