Tuesday, December 15, 2015

J. André Smith and Camouflaged Tents

J. André Smith (1917), WWI camouflaged tents
Above In the November 1917 issue of the Architectural Record, American artist and architect J(ules) André Smith (1880-1959) published a lengthy article on “Notes on Camouflage” (pp. 468-477). Among the ink wash drawings that accompanied the article was a view of disruptively camouflaged tents (shown here), as compared to those without camouflage.

The effect was all but identical to an approach that was used in New Zealand, at Camp Louvencourt, during the same war, as shown in a photograph (see detail below) by Henry Armytage Sanders, from April 1918. The original is in the collection of the Alexander Turnbull Library.

WWI camouflaged tents in New Zealand (1918)
In Smith’s article, he includes the following passage from Italy, France and Britain at War by H.G. Wells (a criticism of British Army camouflage)—

…many of the British tents look as thought they had been daubed over by [a] protesting man muttering “foolery” as he did it. With a telescope the chief points of interest in the present British front in France would be visible from Mars…[such that] the effect of going from behind the French front to behind the English is like going from a brooding wood of green and blue into an open blaze of white canvas and khaki.

Wells' remark is of value, writes Smith—

…in that it points out forcibly that camouflage is not merely a matter of daubing paint, but that it calls for the right sort of daubing and the right sort of color and, above all, demands skillful consideration and direction. In other words, it is an art and not the thoughtless application of a theory.

Reflecting on how different nationalities may arrive at different results, he later concludes—

Just what the American camoufleur will bring to this new art is still too early to predict…The art is still in an early stage of development. If the French were ingenious enough to invent it and the Germans to copy it, it is safe to say that we Americans shall first of all systematize it; we shall make a business of it—not a cut-and-dried business, but one directed with level reasoning and touched by American humor and inventiveness.