How I Visited the National Portrait Gallery and Found Death.

Picture this:

Trafalger Square, full of tourists and a large blue cockerel dominating the architecture.

Titled Hahn/Cock, the 4.72m high piece is by
German artist Katharina Fritsch
and is on display for 18 months.
Two gleaming bright and innocent looking American young men asking me to take their photo outside the National Gallery. They were bursting with smiles and the joy of life despite the grey skies and drizzle. These boys have everything to look forward to.
Oh how I envy them !

But in contrast round the corner at the National Portrait Gallery things are different.

To mark the centenary of the start of the Great War the National Portrait Gallery has put on an exhibition:

The Great War in Portraits.  It's on until June 15th and entry is free.

Be prepared for a very sobering exhibition.
As you would expect there's lots of portraits of men in uniform, formal and informal, glorious and inglorious, good looking and ugly.
Many pictures depicting a soldiers' life.
But it's wasn't a hopeful thing to be a young man during the First World War.
You were as likely to end up dead as not.

When I stumbled on this exhibition  I was in a hurry to get  the tube. I'd only just popped in for a quick look around to see what delights the National Portrait Gallery held this time.
I expected interest and delight, not death.
But rounding a corner I was confronted by this large canvas. It stopped me in my tracks.
Death, real and  unglamorous.
It has to be said albeit expertly painted and a great composition.
But it was so much more than that. It was a man in the mud , dead.

Gilbert Rogers . The Dead Stretcher Bearer.
It's not often a painting has that sort of impact. My art is comfortable and makes you feel good, affirms life and is downright pretty. This is not. This is reportage of the highest order.
I couldn't help thinking of those fresh faced young men who's photo I'd taken. This stretcher bearer died in the wars to end all wars. Except it didn't.


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