Panthéon de la Guerre

Panthéon de la Guerre

This monumental painting was produced in Paris during World War 1. The work was commissioned in expectation and anticipation of victory, with the centrepiece a ‘Temple of Glory’ portraying French figures crowded on a ‘staircase of heroes.’

Described as the world’s largest painting – longer than a football pitch – a purpose built circular gallery was built for the 123 metre panorama which was 14 metres high. 6,000 figures from Nations allied to France adorned the canvas, which was completed by 130 artists and included a continuous topographical landscape of battlefields in France.

Almost every one of the 6,000 figures are male, although one weeping woman in black appears on the central ‘Temple of Glory’ panel. Some minor concessions were also made by the inclusion of Edith Cavell and Emilienne Moreau.

Work on the piece began shortly after the outbreak of World War 1 and was inaugurated in its circular home in September 1918.

This jingoistic work anticipated victory, but victory without the mobilisation of American help and so, in 1917, a panel depicting the 140,000 Chinese war workers was over painted to include Americans. Maybe that is why it was subsequently bought by American business-men in 1927, to put on display at Madison Square Garden. Although even then amendments were made to the American tableau – with the inclusion of an African-American soldier.

A fascinating and sociologically revealing short history of the World’s largest painting…

James Cambridge.