This early 20th-century oil painting by French artist Maurice Henri Dagron (b.1885) depicts a partly destroyed farmhouse in a forest clearing. Four French soldiers are attempting to prop the building via several timber supports. This interesting piece of wartime history was captured by an artist living precariously close to the conflict.
Dagron was born in Fontainebleau, a picturesque area near the French capital. For decades, artists had travelled to its abundant forests to sketch and paint from nature. Fontainebleau is particularly known for providing inspiration to the ‘Barbizon School’ of painters who were some of the first to paint entirely ‘en plein air’ and generally in one sitting. The young Dagron was immersed in a rich artistic environment and it’s no surprise that he rapidly became a painter.
However, can you imagine how quickly the tone changed when the tranquillity of this impressive forest was shattered by the traipsing boots of World War I? Dagron, now 29, witnessed the scenery he loved transform into a battlefield. The soft mornings, gently lit in warm hues and humming with birdsong, now darkened by heavy boots and aching hearts.
Here, in around 1915, we see French soldiers industriously trying to save an old building from total destruction by using local timber to prop it up. It’s probably somewhere close to Paris, perhaps in Marne, which saw much of the fighting. It does beg the question whether Dagron was one of the 2.9 million Frenchmen mobilised for World War I. Did he help to cut the timber? Are these his fellow soldiers? What else did he see? The orange sky with its near-red blotches is set behind shaking trees. The tree in the foreground feels particularly poignant.
Dagron survived the war as he’s mentioned in the French press until 1939. He was regarded as a particularly good colourist and later as a painter of animals. “Mr. Maurice Dagron is an animal painter, he loves animals, he studies them in their manners and portrays them in nature”.
Dagron exhibited his work at the Salon des Indépendants.
Signed in the lower right and framed.
Medium: Oil on board
Overall size: 27” x 19½” / 69cm x 49cm
Year of creation: c. 1915
Condition: Artwork presents well. Slight warp to the board. Frame with some light wear.