From glory to gore: the changing picture of war

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As of the late 18th century, artists began depicting war as a disastrous event rather than a glorious one, when the horrors of the battlefield and the destruction of environments began gradually replacing majesty and heroics. The long evolution of this trend to its dominant position in the present day is illustrated in ‘The Disasters of War, 1800-2014’, an exhibition now on at the Louvre-Lens, in north-east France, and which will last until the autumn. Joseph Confavreux takes a tour of the show.

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Historically speaking, anti-war sentiment is relatively recent. Before 1800 wars were depicted as grandiose naval or land battles in scenes peopled by mythological heroes or those who were carving out a place in the history books. The characters embodied the kind of strength that is revealed in the thick of battle, whether on the side of the victor or the conquered. There is violence, but the individuals remain glorious, the crowds are ready for action and the battlefields are majestic.