Thursday, May 28, 2020

Paul Bartlett and the American Camouflage Division

Above Paul Wayland Bartlett in 1918 in Washington DC. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs. Digital coloring.


In a blog post on Frank Overton Colbert in 2018, we mentioned his connection with a widely known Beaux-Arts American painter and sculptor named Paul Wayland Bartlett. In April 1917, Bartlett co-founded a group of Washington DC artists called the American Camouflage Division.

Bartlett was the group’s chairman, while among the other members were Felix Mahony, Michel Jacobs, Glen Brown, Richard Brooks, A.G. Smith, Alexis B. Many, and J. Crozier. When the US entered World War I, this group offered to contribute their expertise in the development of camouflage. At the same time, comparable groups had also been formed in New York City (called the New York Camouflage Society or American Camouflage) and San Francisco (American Camouflage Western Division).

In an issue of The Sunday Star (Washington DC) on April 29, 1917 (Section Four, page 1), a half-page article titled WASHINGTON ARTISTS ORGANIZE A CAMOUFLAGE DIVISION reported that Bartlett had recently—

made an address before an assemblage of fellow artists, architects, sculptors, and painters to explain the possibilities of camouflage. His explanations were inspiring; so much so, in fact, that the establishment of an American association of camouflage was begun then and there.

Paul Wayland Bartlett (1865-1925) had been born in New Haven CT. He began with the advantage of professional connections, because his father was a prominent sculptor, Truman H. Bartlett (1835-1922), who taught modeling for 22 years in the MIT architecture department. Both the father and the son were heavily influenced by Neo-classicism and the French Academy, and, as early as age 15, Paul Bartlett began to study sculpture in Paris.

Throughout the remainder of his life, he remained active in American art circles, but lived primarily in France. In 1914, artists serving in the French Army were the first to propose the establishment of a section de camouflage, so Bartlett’s endorsement of the "art of camouflage" was most likely encouraged in part by that.

Bartlett was known for his commissioned public sculptures, the most notable of which may be The Apothesis of Democracy, the House of Representatives pediment at the US Capitol building (as shown below). He died of blood poisoning in Paris in 1925.