Expeditionary Force, Canteen-Depot

Place Europe: France, Nord Pas de Calais, Pas de Calais, Etaples
Accession Number ART93279
Collection type Art
Measurement Overall: 47.6 x 57.7 cm
Object type Work on paper
Physical description pastel on paper
Maker Rae, Iso
Place made France: Nord Pas de Calais, Pas de Calais, Etaples
Date made January 1917
Conflict First World War, 1914-1918

Item copyright: Copyright expired - public domain

Public Domain Mark This item is in the Public Domain


In this work Rae has depicted a camp scene during the cold winter of Etaples. It has a remote and melancholy atmosphere showing an almost desolate looking camp under snow. In the foreground two boats appear to be moored along the river, which also appears to be frozen. The work highlights the freezing conditions the Australian soldiers at Etaples would have endured.
Iso Rae was one of only two Australian women artists who were able to depict the First World War at close quarters. From 1915 - 1919, she produced around 200 pastel drawings while working for the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) of the British Red Cross, as a VAD, in one of the YMCA huts at Etaples camp.
Born in Melbourne, Rae trained at the National Gallery School, where her fellow students included Tom Roberts, Frederick McCubbin and John Longstaff. She moved to Paris in 1887 with her family and in 1890 joined the artists' colony at Etaples, while continuing to exhibit her paintings in the Paris salons. When war broke out, the Rae family were the only foreigners to remain in the town.
Rae's drawings offer an insight into the complex support system that operated behind the lines, depicting the life of the camp in all its great variety: the different nationalities, Australians lounging in the background while German prisoners work, romance in the streets, the neatly ordered buildings of the hospital and tent lines, soldiers playing football and queuing to see movies. She saw events from a different angle than the men, her scenes were often incidental to the activities, yet they were intrinsically bound up in them.
Strategically located near the coast of Northern France, Etaples was the scene of immense concentrations of Commonwealth reinforcement camps and hospitals. It was remote from attack, except from aircraft, and accessible by railway from both the northern and southern battlefields. Etaples camp served as a training and retraining ground for forces about to enter battle; a depot for supplies; a detention centre for prisoners, both allied and enemy; and administered nearly twenty general hospitals that served the wounded from the Somme battles.
By 1917, there were 100,000 troops camped among the sand dunes. The hospitals included eleven general, one stationary, four Red Cross Hospitals and a convalescent depot, and were able to deal with 22,000 wounded and sick at any one time. The town's medical prominence did not escape the attention of the German high command, which staged a number of air raids on the town. Four such attacks in May 1918 were launched using incendiary bombs directed against various hospital sites, resulting in many casualties.