An article by research fellow Christian Drobe, ‘War Painting and the Soldier as the New Man: Karl Sterrer’s Pilot Portraits and the Ambivalent Face of Heroism during the First World War‘ has just been published in the RIHA Journal.
With his series of pilot portraits during the First World War, the Viennese painter Karl Sterrer made a significant contribution to the depiction of a modern heroic figure. It has not yet been analysed in the context of the modern soldier and his masculinity, which came under strain in the brutal trench warfare. At the mercy of an abstract war machine, the common soldiers could hardly find heroic moments to impress. Only a few new types of troops, such as the aviators, succeeded in doing so, which gave them a great deal of public recognition and made them part of modern visual culture. Ultimately, they were seen as New Man, above the horrors of modern warfare. At the same time, they were also role models for a noble habitus that met the phenomena of modernity calmly. This aspiration was evident in their elegant countenance, their extraordinary physiognomy. Unlike previous attempts in art history, however, this article provides a look at the conservative take on the subject – by a traditional, academic artist. This focus underlines the extent to which old and new soldierly values overlapped in modernity and became actualised by different artists regardless of their political orientation. The same applies to the stylistic realisation, which intertwines traditional elements with those of new movements such as New Objectivity.
The article is open access. You can read it here.