Aviation art gallery opens at Pentagon
WASHINGTON — The World War I Skyfighters of France teamed with modern-day American airmen in Afghanistan in an art gallery exhibit in the Pentagon dedicated March 18 by Air Force senior leaders. The exhibit showcases the work of the first aviation artist and displays the latest addition to the Air Force Art Program.
Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz joined William Davidson, administrative assistant to the secretary, in the ceremony highlighting 19 paintings by French artist Henri Farre. The gallery is located at the fifth-floor apex of corridors 9 and 10 in the Pentagon.
“This gallery will be a place for all airmen to appreciate the accomplishments of yesterday and today,” Donley said.
Monsieur Farre was an “artiste-observateur-bombardier” with France’s “Le Premier Groupe d’Escadrille de Bombardment” in World War I, according to Russell Kirk, art program director. The art he termed “aerial vision” was the first to capture airmen and their aircraft in combat with a view from inside the cockpit.
Schwartz highlighted Monsieur Farre’s unique perspective as an artist, noting that he had witnessed the very beginning of combat aviation, and became the first artist to document aerial warfare.
Airmen, civilians and Air Force artists were on hand to witness the dedication. The event also featured the Air Force Art Program’s latest acquisition, “Moving Mountains” by William Phillips, which depicts two F-15 Eagles on a combat mission over Afghanistan.
The displayed paintings by Monsieur Farre featured a variety of scenes of World War I aerial combat. One painting showed the nighttime bombardment of the Sablons train station in Metz, France. Another featured a cockpit view of a rainbow against a background of white clouds, with the rainbow forming a circle similar to aircraft markings from that era. An aerial dogfight between a Nieuport and a Fokker — French and German aircraft, respectively — also didn’t escape his artist palette and brush.
Two paintings dealt with the death of a French pilot. In addition to being a painter, he was also a writer. A sign next to “Death of Captain Fequant Plateau of Malzeville” detailed the captain’s fate and came from Monsieur Farre’s book, “The Sky Fighters of France: Paintings of Battles in the Air”:
“Returning from a fight with an Aviatik (an Austrian aircraft), Captain Fequant was hit in the head by a volley of bullets from the German aviator’s gun. While fighting, he was standing up, but he dropped on being hit. His body fell partly over the side of the machine, but the pilot, Sergeant Niox, held him with a badly wounded hand, and brought him back to the aviation field where they had started.”
Monsieur Farre’s work was first displayed in the United States in 1919 in a sponsored exhibition by the Washington Club and Women of the Washington Club. The exhibit featured 176 paintings.
Laurence Rockefeller donated 69 of Monsieur Farre’s paintings to the Air Force in 1957, according to Kirk. Most of them are displayed in the Pentagon and at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Recording military life and combat operations through art has a long tradition, according to Kirk.
“Before the advent of the war correspondent and the camera, military artists traveled with armies to record conflicts and battles,” Kirk said. “The Air Force Art Program carries on this tradition of documenting the military way of life through the medium of art.”
The Air Force Art Program began in 1950 when the Army transferred 800 works of art to the Air Force, Kirk said. The collection now numbers more than 10,000.
The gallery will periodically change the art displayed in order to focus on a particular artist or theme.