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Tromper l’ennemi - L’invention du camouflage en 1914-1918

Cécile Coutin

“You ’all painters back home? Well then, go and color us up!” There is a possibility this type of barracks joke was used to enroll sargent Dunoyer de Segonzac, Paul Landowski, André Lhote, Paul Laurens, Joé Hamman... and so many other pastel and Orientalist artists, engravers or decorators transferred to the “camouflage section”. In 1914, France dressed up its soldiers for the war in bright red pants – while the Germans were hidden in feldgrau and the British Tommies in mignonette green. Our pros of color and trompe-l’oeil were so shocked by the slaughter that they offered their services to copy the middle, break the lines, decompose the tones... Cécile Coutin, head curator at the BNF and a great specialist of contemporary history, shows us how they set up false trees under the shells, they painted up the jalopies, or disguised the canons in the rear workshops. These artists went all the way out, often with a good sense of humor, always with genius, to protect the soldiers at the front from the view, the binoculars and consequently from ammunition. They dared do the most baroque creations, such as the ‘poilus’ in paper mâché, boastful in their trenches that were empty. They even tried to hide the Grand Canal, and to create a cardboard Paris at Conflans-Sainte-Honorine –to the north west of the city- to divert the bomb of the zeppelins! These artists were forerunners and invented the snow suits of the mountain soldiers and the leopard one of today’s paratroopers. But most important, these drafted action painters or Cubist saved thousands of lives with the tip of their spatula or their paintbrush. In a book illustrated with 300 documents nseen before, a trip into an invisible page of the war... and of art.

Tromper l’ennemi - L’invention du camouflage en 1914-1918, by Cécile Coutin, preface by Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, Pierre de Taillac publisher, 2012, 240 p., €35.

Tromper l’ennemi - L’invention du camouflage en 1914-1918 - Cécile Coutin

Review published in the newsletter #295 - from 21 March 2013 to 27 March 2013

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