Man in the mud diorama
Sculptor Peter Corlett was commissioned in 1986 to create the Man in the mud diorama (ART41003). He completed the work in Melbourne in 1989. It was then displayed in the First World War gallery of the Australian War Memorial until the gallery's closure in April 2013 for redevelopment.
The diorama illustrates the appalling conditions that were faced by those who served on the Western Front. It consists of a large background photo that shows abandoned guns and machinery, broken equipment and soldiers. The foreground of the work depicts a muddy landscape, a broken duckboard, and water. A soldier sits amid this scene of desolation, head in hands, a figure of complete despair.
The work was sculpted from a live model, but the artist also drew on images that he had seen throughout his life and also on some of the photographs in the Memorial's National Collection. The pose of the soldier was taken from the photograph E04850, which shows a group of soldiers gathered at a Regimental Aid Post in Picardie suffering from exposure to gas. One of the soldiers is sitting on the ground, elbows on knees and head in hands.
Corlett's sculpture captures the atmosphere, emotion and the landscape of war that connects the viewer with the experience of despair. The realistic style of the work means that many people find the water and mud so lifelike that they feel the need to touch it.