Eugène Burnand's 104 Pastel Portraits
First World War "Military Types"
Select the text in a thumbnail to view enlarged image with commentary in French with English translation.
Background information about these portraits is at the bottom of this page.
It will be obvious to anyone looking at the portraits that the artist was a man of great humanity, who captures the personalities he has depicted with great sensitivity and skill. The commentaries alongside, written by his nephew Robert, contain some some outdated assumptions common at the time and some expressions describing physical attributes, characteristics and behaviour which are unacceptable today. The translations have recognised this by choosing words which maintain respect for the subjects, whilst honouring the sacrifice made in the First World War by the many different nationalities portrayed so faithfully here.
Classified according to the colonial geo-political boundaries of 1918 and as declared in the book; French Empire 51, British Empire 22, USA 9, Italy 4, Japan 1, Belgium 2, Serbia 4, Russia 3, Romania 1, Greece 2, Portugal 1, Montenegro 1, Poland 2, Czechoslovakia 1.
Forty five current nations are represented. The order in which they appear in the book is; France, Algeria, Switzerland, Armenia, Corsica, Morocco, Djibouti, Tunisia, Martinique, New Caledonia, Senegal, Sudan, Mali, Vietnam, China, Madagascar, Guadeloupe, Australia, Ireland, England, Scotland, New Zealand, Canada, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Burma, Jamaica, Fiji, Thailand, USA, Italy, Japan, Belgium, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovena, Russia, Belarus, Romania, Greece, Crete, Portugal, Montenegro, Poland, Czech Republic.
Rev Père Rouillon
Joseph Louis Helmlinger
Soldat de L'Armée
Mohamed Ben Bidouan
Mohamed Ben Nadroc
Sen Bene Biram
Lai van Chau
Mary McLean Loughron
J H Shears
G W Kimberley
Edward R Parker
Sunder Sing Haldice
Indian Army Private
Indian Army Auxilliary
Ship's Captain (USA)
Lieutenant La Rue (USA)
Rev Chas. Rose
USA NCO Miller
Rear Admiral Grassi
Captain De Witte
Serbian Infantry Private
Captain CM Mélas
This is a unique assembly of pastel and pencil portraits that Eugène Burnand produced between 1917 and 1920. He conceived it in 1915 but other work stopped him commencing it until the summer of 1917 when he was in Paris. To find more subjects he made visits to Montpellier and Marseille later the same year, and continued the project when he moved back to Paris from Switzerland at the end of the war in 1918. He called France his "second homeland". Several of his children were born in France and family members had fought for France in the Great War. He was impressed by the multiplicity of nations involved in the conflict and the variety of cultures represented. As an artist he was fascinated by race and ethnicity and wanted to capture personalities in the military "types" he was depicting.
His drawing materials were Wolff pencils, enhanced with Hardtmuth hard pastels. Each portrait measures approximately 46 x 53 cms. He drew them in three main locations, Paris, Montpellier and Marseille. Most would be recuperating before returning to duty or home. All would have been deeply affected by their experiences. Burnand has captured their moods with consummate skill. He drew them up close, knee to knee, having got to know them first. He was determined to depict their psychology. There was a trusting relationship with all but one or two. They were paid for sitting but some refused payment as they considered it an honour. Most are identified by name, some just by rank, or unit, or country of origin. His friend Louis Gillet, the revered art historian and critic, described the circumstances of the sittings as "more resembling a confessional".
Robert Hamilton (pastel 62) described in his diary his experience as a subject:
"Whilst having breakfast a M Burnand, a French-Swiss artist of some little fame asked me through the YMCA to pose for him, he being desirous of taking and Australian soldier, as he was making a collecttion up of all the different nations fighting in the war. Thought I was a typical Aussie, so more out of curiosity and to break the monotony of sightseeing I went. He treated me well and for two days I was well dug in at his home. He has a nice family all speaking English fairly well.
The work was good and he is sending me a reproduction of it to Australia. I took a photo of it. It gave me an insight into a French Home, for as you know, one may be a great friend of a Frenchman but you will never gain access to his home too easily."
Eighty portraits were exhibited in May 1919 in the Luxembourg museum in Paris, and in June 1920 at the Brunner gallery with an additional 20, to great public acclaim. The latter was organised by the publishers Crété of Paris, and Louis Gillet wrote a preface to the catalogue in which publication as a book was proposed. The book was published in 1922 with a preface by Marshal Foch, and long introduction by Gillet, shortly after the death of the artist. 101 of the original portraits were bought for the French Nation in 1924 by American philanthropist William Nelson Cromwell at the suggestion of General Malleterre and put into the then new Museum of the Legion of Honour in Paris, (opposite the Musée d'Orsay), where 72 are on permanent display today. Légion d'honneur website
The images displayed on this page are taken from the 1922 De Luxe (number 73) edition of "Les Alliés Dans La Guerre Des Nations" published by Crété, Paris. Each pastel is accompanied by a commentary about the subjects and what they represented by Eugène Burnand's nephew and godson Robert Burnand, a military historian and Captain in the French army. Each commentary is reproduced here side by side with the portrait and with an English translation underneath. The language is dated and some of the sentiments do not fit comfortably with modern perspectives, but it is so 'of its time', telling us much about how some were thinking then, as seen through the eyes of a senior military (and literary) man. Like most of his countrymen he must have been trying to make sense of, and see something positive in, the unprecedented and unexpected slaughter of the First World War.
There are two main versions of the book. One contains 80 portraits in colour. The other (De Luxe) has 100 portraits, 80 in colours as in the 80 version, plus 20 in black and white although the originals were in colour. At present I have no good explanation for this. There is some evidence the artist was dissatisfied with the reproduction quality and settled for monochrome for certain of them. There was also a hint that some colour reproduction equipment was unavailable. Of the 300 De Luxe copies that appear to have been printed, each was numbered. Numbers 1 to 12 were printed on Whatman paper and contained an extra (coloured) pencil original portrait (military "types") by Burnand (view those discovered). Numbers 13 to 50 were printed "sur papier à la forme" and included an original black pencil sketch by the artist. 51 to 300 were printed "sur papier à la forme" (no extras). The standard books with 80 pictures were not numbered and the number printed is unknown.
Portraits numbered 1 to 100 displayed here are from the Crété book. 102 is in the Legion of honour museum. 101, 103 and 104 are in the Moudon museum.
2014 was the centenary of the start of that Great War, and it has been much thought about. These portraits depict typical individuals, with a wealth of character and emotion brought out by the skill of the artist and enhanced in, and between, the lines of the accompanying texts that were written by nephew and military historian. There is no other collection like it. It was the last work of his career.
Framed A3 prints of the full set of pastels is available from me for exhibition. Please email if interested. There is no copyright claimed on these images and I am happy for them to be used by others. Higher resolution images can be provided if required by email.