Menin Gate at midnight

Place Europe: Belgium, Flanders, West-Vlaanderen, Ypres
Accession Number ART09807
Collection type Art
Measurement Overall: 137 cm x 270 cm; framed: 170 cm x 302 cm x 10 cm
Object type Painting
Physical description oil on canvas
Location Main Bld: First World War Gallery
Maker Longstaff, Will
Place made United Kingdom: England, Greater London, London
Date made 1927
Conflict First World War, 1914-1918

Item copyright: Copyright expired - public domain

Public Domain Mark This item is in the Public Domain


'Menin Gate at midnight' was painted by Will Longstaff to commemorate those soldiers with no marked graves on the Western Front during the First World War; also known as 'Ghosts of Menin Gate'. Longstaff attended a ceremony dedicating the Menin Gate memorial to the soldiers of the British empire forces, just outside the town of Ypres, Belgium, on 24 July 1927. The memorial was dedicated to the 350,000 men of the British and Empire forces who had died in battles around Ypres, and bears the names of 55,000 men with no known grave, over 6,000 of whom were Australians. Longstaff was profoundly moved by what he witnessed and that night, unable to sleep, Longstaff returned to Menin Road and later claimed to have had a vision of spirits of the dead rising out of the soil around him. On returning to his studio in London he painted 'Menin Gate at midnight' in a single session. Today 'Menin Gate at midnight' has achieved the status of a national icon. The painting retains its ability to provoke an emotional response and to communicate the scale of the loss of life and the devastation of war. However as people now have a very different understanding of war, the painting serves a slightly different function. Whereas in the past people responded to the painting as it related to the loss of a loved one and their own personal grief, now the painting communicates the loss experienced by a whole generation. The vast number of those who were killed, and the immensity of the damage wrought during the First World War, requires that those who sacrificed their lives should not be forgotten.
Longstaff used well-known motifs to trigger emotion. His scarlet poppies are flowers that could be found in the Flanders fields, but they also carry the traditional connotations of shed blood and remembrance; they represent a floral blanket covering the bloodied bodies of unknown soldiers; at the same time, like the paper poppies worn on Remembrance Day, they are a tribute from the living to the dead. The portrayal of the steel-helmeted soldiers rising from the cornfields extends the range of visual emblems used by Longstaff: the plentiful harvest; the harvest of men; the steel-helmeted crosses covering the graves of many soldiers; and the helmeted bayonets raised in cheer and victory.