Saturday, February 10, 2018

Camouflage Artist | More on Oswald Moser

The Dwarf (1920) by Oswald Moser (self-portrait on left)
Oswald Moser (his full name at birth was Robert Oswald Moser) was born in London in 1874. His training as an artist began in the same city at St John’s Wood Art School (called The Wood). He began to exhibit professionally in 1904, and enjoyed success in subsequent years, including an Honorable Mention (1907) and a Silver Medal (1922) at the Paris Salon. A writer as well as an artist, he sometimes illustrated his own stories.

During World War I, he served as a lieutenant in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve, during which he contributed to the development of disruptive ship camouflage (called “dazzle-painting”). Moser was one of the artists who worked in the camouflage section headed by British marine painter Norman Wilkinson at Burlington House (Royal College of Art), beginning in November 1917.

There is a photograph of Moser, seated beside a dazzle-painted ship model of a British ocean liner, the RMS Olympic. It can be accessed on the website of the [US] Navy History and Heritage Command (NH 120779), where the caption mistakenly claims that he was “head of British dazzle painting and camouflage for ships.”  It is also reproduced on page 38 of James Taylor’s book about dazzle camouflage (2016), as well as in an earlier post on this blog.

Moser’s wife, Mary Louise (Murray) Moser, was also associated with that wartime camouflage unit. Indeed, there is a well-known photograph of the testing theatre at Burlington House (reproduced below) in which, I am told, the man looking through the periscope on the right is Oswald Moser, while his wife is the woman on the opposite side.

British ship camouflage testing theatre

It may not be undue to say that Moser’s paintings are sometimes odd and fantasy-based. Of particular distinction are a painting titled Wounded Sailors Listening to Musicians Playing on Board a Ship (c1918), another titled The Dwarf: Scenes from the Tales of Richoux (1920, as shown at the top of this page), which includes a strange self-portrait, and a more straightforward Self-Portrait (1938), that is now in the collection of the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum in Bournemouth.

There was some public controversy about one of his paintings, titled The Lord of Creation (1937). When exhibited at the Royal Academy’s Annual Exhibition, some people saw it as indecently referring to King Edward VIII, who had abdicated the throne in order to marry American socialite Wallis Simpson (the Duke and Duchess of Windsor).  Although Moser denied the connection, the painting was removed from the exhibition.

He continued to exhibit until the early 1940s. He died in 1953.


Taylor, James. Dazzle: disguise and disruption in war and art. UK: Pool of London Press, 2016.
Williams, David. Liners in battledress. St. Catharines, Ontario: Vanwell Publishing Ltd, 1989.

Note A slightly different version of this biographical note has also been contributed to 

copies still available