Monday, May 23, 2016

Camouflage Artist | British Lieutenant O. Moser

British Navy camoufleur Lieutenant O. Moser (c1918)
Above This is a restoration of an undated photograph from World War I, c1918. The original print can also be found online at the Navy History and Heritage Command (NH 120779), where the caption reads: "Lieutenant O. Moser, Head of British dazzle painting and camouflage for ship." How strange. In all our research of ship camouflage, we've never heard of Lieutenant Moser, much less that he supposedly served as the head of British ship camouflage. The credit for that is nearly always given to Lieutenant Norman Wilkinson. So who was Moser? (Oliver, Oscar, Oswald, Otto?) Please note on the table beside him the dazzle-painted ship model (very British and, most likely, very Wilkinson).


Update Since the above was originally posted, we've learned a bit more about the fellow in the photograph. He was a British artist and illustrator named [Robert] Oswald Moser (1874-1953). An officer in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve during World War I, while he was surely not in charge of British ship camouflage, he was most likely on the team who served under Norman Wilkinson, along with UK artists Jan Gordon and Cecil King. We've seen that ship model before, because it was reproduced in a 1918 article by Gordon on "The Art Of Dazzle-Painting." It shows the dazzle pattern for the RMS Olympic

Otherwise, he was an interesting painter, whose finest artwork may have been a strange painting (somewhat Stanley Spencer-like) titled Wounded Sailors Listening to Musicians Playing on Board a Ship (c1918). But there's also a wonderful self-portrait from 1928 (reproduced below), which is in the collection of the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum.

[For a detailed further update on Norman Wilkinson's dazzle camouflage team, see more recent blogpost here.]

Oswald Moser, Self-Portrait (1928)

From MEN FROM EVERY STATION IN LIFE BUILDING SHIPS. Even Doctors, Lawyers and Clerks Have Been Whipped Into Shape as Workmen; Much Friendly Rivalry (reporting on operations at the Moore Shipbuilding and Dock Company in Oakland CA) in the Albuquerque Morning Journal (Albuquerque NM), October 14, 1918, p. 1—

Ship camouflage gives every boat from this plant the appearance of some monster futurist painting that has left its frame for a spin on the ocean. The idea is carried out to such an extent that an aviator or lookout gazing down at her is deceived in her size and direction. Each camouflage scheme is worked out to give its own particular illusion.


Below is another restored photograph from the same NHHC archives in which two wooden ship models are positioned side by side, the one on the left having been dazzle-painted in the British manner while the one on the right is unpainted.

WWI ship camouflage demonstration

From SHIP CAMOUFLAGE FUTILE, SAYS NIXON; Asserts German Periscope Reveals Outlines, Regardless of Color Plan in the New York Sun, March 7, 1918, p. 4—

Camouflage of ships is a useless art. No longer does the much heralded war method of concealment hide allied transports from the destructive eyes of the Kaiser's U-boat, according to a statement made yesterday by Lewis Nixon, shipbuilder, at the luncheon of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce…

"The Germans are inventive. They are desperate and they are relying on the submarines," said Mr. Nixon. The peculiar coloring of our ships is of no avail, because they have invented a periscope that reveals the ship in outline, regardless of coloring.