Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Camouflage Artist | Jean-Louis Forain

Camouflage artist Jean-Louis Forain (left), c1914-15
Above At the beginning of World War I, Jean-Louis Forain was a well-known and immensely popular French artist, who in his youth had been close friends with Arthur Rimbaud, Paul Verlaine, Edgar Dégas, and Édouard Monet. Known chiefly as a caricaturist, he had been strongly influenced by Honoré Daumier.

When the war began, Forain was already in his sixties. Nevertheless, he volunteered for the French Army’s camouflage section. In the photograph shown here, he is on the left, applying disruptive camouflage shapes to a field cannon, c1914-15.

A comparable image is reproduced in Cécile Coutin, Tromper ‘ennemi (p. 27), where it is credited to the Musée de l’Armée, Paris. As a side dish, below is a passage we recently found in which a prominent British nurse recalls her wartime meeting with Forain.


Kathleen Burke, The White Road to Verdun. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1916—

We lunched with General [Philippe] Pétain and his État Major. A charming and most interesting addition to the party was M. [Jean-Louis] Forain, the famous French caricaturist, and now one of the Chief Instructors of the French Army in the art of camouflage—the art of making a thing look like anything in the world except what it is! He has established a series of schools all along the French Front, where the Poilus [French infantry] learn to bedeck their guns and thoroughly disguise them under delicate shades of green and yellow, with odd pink spots, in order to relieve the monotony. Certainly the appearance of the guns of the present time would rejoice the heart and soul of the "Futurists." It was most interesting to hear him describe the work in detail and the rapidity with which his pupils learned the new art. For one real battery there are probably three or four false ones, beautiful wooden guns, etc., etc., and he told us of the Poilus' new version of the song Rien n'est plus beau que notre Patrie ("Nothing is more beautiful than our country"). They now sing Rien n'est plus faux que notre batterie ("Nothing is more false than our battery").

Kathleen Burke