After WWI, the U.S. Marine Corps collected artwork including works by participants in the war, artist-correspondents, illustrators working in support of the war effort, and commissioned artists.
First in the Fight (1917) by James Montgomery FlaggNational Museum of the Marine Corps
First in the Fight by James Montgomery Flagg
In the summer of 1917, James Montgomery Flagg combined two important attributes of the Marine Corps in his iconic painting First in the Fight and Always Faithful. His model, Capt Ross E. Rowell, was in charge of the Marine Corps Publicity Bureau, 1916-17.
Flagg’s portrait of Capt Ross E. Rowell became one of the most iconic Marine Corps recruiting posters of World War I.
Devil Dog by Samuel Johnson WoolfNational Museum of the Marine Corps
Devil Dog by Samuel Johnson Woolf
The U.S. Marine Corps purchased this portrait in 1924. Woolf captures a Marine taking a break in a bombed out building, looking slightly to the right, gazing at an unseen figure. The focus is on the strength of the Marine‘s hands and the tenseness of his facial features.
Marines at Belleau Wood by Frank Earle SchoonoverNational Museum of the Marine Corps
Marines at Belleau Wood by Frank Earle Schoonover
Schoonover created this iconic painting of Marines at Belleau Wood in 1919 for “Souvenir Pictures of the Great War,” an insert to the Ladies’ Home Journal. He used photographs and newspaper articles as his primary sources. His skills as a painter are evident as he pulls the viewer into the intense, chaotic scene.
By the end of the offensive, which lasted 31 days, the Marine Corps suffered the largest loss of life in its history. The 4th Brigade lost 1,062 men in battle, with another 7,253 wounded. In respect for the fighting ability of the Marines, the French Army renamed Belleau Wood.“
Bois de la Brigade de Marine, Belleau Wood by Barry FaulknerNational Museum of the Marine Corps
Bois de la Brigade de Marine, Belleau Wood by Barry Faulkner
This map of Bois de la Brigade de Marine was commissioned by Edward Robinson, Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, to honor the Marines at Belleau Wood and his son, Phillips B. Robinson, who served with the British Ambulance Service in 1914 and was commissioned into the Marine Corps in 1917.
Artist Barry Faulkner—after serving with the Army in France—returned to sketch the area around Belleau Wood. He used aerial maps and his own drawings to create this map with four small paintings at its bottom edge.
Bois de Belleau Hunting Lodge by Joseph-Felix (Jean) BouchorNational Museum of the Marine Corps
Bois de Belleau Hunting Lodge by Joseph-Felix (Jean) Bouchor
A German casualty lies in front of a shell-shattered hunting lodge which had been used as a German headquarters at Belleau Wood. On 26 June 1918, at the end of the long battle, the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, captured the remaining area of the wood.
Before Zero Hour by Col John W. Thomason, Jr., USMCNational Museum of the Marine Corps
Before Zero Hour by Col John W. Thomason, Jr., USMC
The shades of blue add depth to the Marines Thomason has drawn in ink; he uses yellow to create the early morning light. The feeling of anticipation is palpable as the Marines wait for the time to advance.
Flare, Front Line, Champagne…. by Col John W. Thomason, Jr., USMCNational Museum of the Marine Corps
Flare, Front Line, Champagne…by Col John W. Thomason, Jr.
Thomason used his watercolor for the frontispiece of his book, Fix Bayonets! He used swirling shades of blue and sharp outlines for the figures; his washes of white conveyed the eerie night sky as flares were shot into the sky, illuminating the landscape.
Thomason wrote, “That night, lying in its shallow, hastily dug holes, the remnant of the battalion descended through further hells of shelling.”
“Oh Lordy, They’ve got us bracketed….” by Col John W. Thomason, Jr., USMCNational Museum of the Marine Corps
“Oh Lordy, They’ve got us bracketed . . .” by Col Thomason
Thomason uses shading and dark tones to convey danger. The figures carry on with their mission, only slightly flinching as the bomb bursts behind them.
‘Oh Lordy, they’ve got us bracketed!’... a dark, tremendous streak, shooting straight down to the quivering earth. A yawning hole opened with thunder fairly between two platoon columns, and the earth vomited. . . It was wonderful shooting. All the shells that followed dropped between the columns of prone men—but not a man was hit!"
Thomason wrote, “before the smoke had lifted from the monstrous crater the devastating rumble came again, and the second shell roared down 50 yards to the rear."
Fix Bayonets!, 1926.
Col John W. Thomason, USMC, was a captain during World War I. As an artist, he used his skills to paint representative examples of German soldiers wearing three types of head gear. These tempera and ink works on paper served two purposes: they provided him with targets to shoot at and helped him to more readily recognize the enemy. The works are marked by holes from his Model 1911 .45 caliber pistol.
After the United States entered the war in 1917, artist Lester G. Hornby obtained a pass allowing him to travel to the front lines. He created more than 50 drawings and sketches a day. In his later years, he focused on teaching and rarely exhibited his works. For more information about the artwork, click on individual images.
Crossing the Meuse (1918) by LtCol John J. Capolino, USMCRNational Museum of the Marine Corps
Crossing the Meuse by LtCol John J. Capolino, USMCR
Under the command of Maj George W. Hamilton, the 1st and 2d Battalion, 5th Marines, cross a narrow bridge on the last night of the war, 10 November 1918. Rich, dark blue and brown tones with touches of white set off the line of Marines from the grim background as they prepare to cross.
To ensure that his audience understood the historic importance of the scenes that he depicted, Capolino placed a caption on banner at the top of work along with the Marine Corps emblem and any awards associated with the action.
Triumphal Arch (1917/1918) by Charles Dominique FouquerayNational Museum of the Marine Corps
Triumphal Arch by Charles Dominique Fouqueray
The signed color lithograph of the French and American forces marching through the Arch de Triomphe in Paris captures the quickness of the marching and the battle-hardened soldiers, holding their nations’ colors high in triumph. The fighting is over. The figures in brown and grey give way to the lightness and sharp vivid washes of the colors of the flags.
A World at War: The Marine Corps in World War I was developed by the National Museum of the Marine Corps (NMMC).
Joan Thomas, Art Curator
Angie McCrary, NMMC Public Affairs Volunteer
National Museum of the Marine Corps Art Collection