The Gas Mask
KENNINGTON, Eric Henri (1888 - 1960)
Media: lithograph on paper
Acquired: 1919; Presented by Ministry of Information
Accession Number: NMW A 13166
Collection: The Great War: Britain's Efforts and Ideals
In each of Kennington’s images, a soldier dominates the foreground, contextualised by the scene behind him. The soldier is practising putting on his gas mask. More soldiers are helped with theirs behind him. The masks were to protect the soldiers from chemical attacks, such as mustard gas, which was used for the first time in the First World War. Although set in a trench, the image does not capture the harsh, dirty conditions that the soldiers encountered there.
Showing soldiers in training and at the Front, one journalist described these prints as capturing ‘the spirit of our new, young army’. Kennington was probably chosen for this subject as he had himself enlisted with the 13th (Kensington) Battalion London Regiment and fought on the Western Front, France, 1914-1915. He was wounded and discharged as unfit in 1915. These prints do not attempt to depict the horror and tragedy of war, as in most of his war art, Kennington instead champions the common soldier.
Kennington was born in Chelsea, London, the son of a well-known portrait artist. He studied at St Paul’s Art School, the Lambeth School of Art and the City and Guilds School. He was appointed an official war artist from 1917-1919 and again in 1940-1943, painting portraits of sailors and airmen.