Birth date: 18 August 1860
Birth place: Australia: Victoria, Melbourne, Collingwood
Death date: 16 March 1940
Death place: United Kingdom: England, Sussex
Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918

Iso Rae was one of only two Australian women artists who were able to depict the First World War at close quarters. Rae was not an official war artist, but produced about 200 pastel drawings while working for the Voluntary Aid Detachment of the British Cross (VAD) in the large army camp at Étaples from 1915-1919. The drawings reflect a woman's unique perspective of the activities of men at war; not of direct front-line action, but of the everyday events behind the lines: preparing for battle, caring for the wounded, keeping the prisoners occupied and entertaining the troops with football games, films and live theatre. The Memorial owns eleven of these quiet drawings, each of significance both aesthetically and from a social and historical viewpoint.

Born in Melbourne, Rae trained at the National Gallery School with George Folingsby; 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 Étaples, while continuing to exhibit her paintings in the Paris Salons. When the First World War began, the Rae family were the only foreigners to remain in the town.

Strategically sited near the coast, Étaples became the largest army base of the war, serving British, Canadian, Scottish and Australian forces. It was 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 several large hospitals that served the wounded from the Somme battles. By 1917, there were 100,000 troops camped among the sand dunes, and the hospitals were able to deal with 22,000 wounded and sick at any one time. Through the town passed the railways which carried troops and supplies to the battlegrounds of the Western Front.

Rae's drawings offer an insight into the support system behind the lines. They depict soldiers returning from the training ground, troops arriving, German prisoners at work, the football game and one of the large hospitals.

The regular patterning of tents and hospital buildings outlined in black, and the neat groups of soldiers, provide a feeling of order and calm; yet underneath lies a sense of foreboding in the continual preparation for battle. The hospitals are a reminder of the many casualties which regularly arrived at Étaples. The gouache highlights in the night scenes create a red glow, imparting an air of mystery. The night works are drawn on a dark grey textured paper, heightening the sense of anxious waiting and the unknown. Through her unassuming, yet lively drawings, Rae has provided a rare glimpse into life behind the scenes of the largest war camp of the First World War.

Rolls and Awards

Collection Items


NYD at Lion d'Argent, YMCA, Etaples, August 1919; verso: Figure of a French woman, with hands on hips

The work depicts a theatrical performance for `NYD (not yet diagnosed)' patients. These patients were often suffering from psychiatric illnesses caused by shell-shock. The entertainment was held in the YMCA hut at the Etaples Army Base Camp. The performance was of Pierrot and Columbine, played by...


Football game

Depicts spectators standing around a sports field with football match in progress. The spectators are in uniform; khaki is dominant with a couple of blue uniforms scattered in the crowd. The goal posts are soccer goals, and it is not an oval field as for Australian Rules football, so that the game...


23rd General Hospital

Depicts the British Army Medical Corps, 23rd General Hospital (later 7th Canadian Hospital) at night. Iso Rae's sister, Alison, worked for the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) for the British Cross at one of the military hospitals in the Etaples Army Base Camp, possibly the 23rd General. The hospital...


YMCA Walton hut

Depicts the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) Walton hut. The building was provided and run by the YMCA as an amenities centre for soldiers in the Etaples Army Base Camp, Etaples, France.


Infantry returning from training ground (Bull Ring)

The `Bull Ring', as it was referred to, was infamous for the extreme severity of the training which took place there. A night scene.


Cinema queue

Depicts men from the Camp queuing outside the cinema at night, at the YMCA huts at the Etaples Army Base Camp. Iso Rae (1860-1940) was one of only two Australian women artists who were able to depict the First World War at close quarters. Rae was not an official war artist, but produced about 200...


A farewell, 7th Canadian, Etaples

Pastel sketch of two light horsemen bidding a Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) nurse farewell at night fall. The troopers and nurse are standing in front of buildings of the 7th Canadian Hospital (formerly the 23rd General Hospital), at Etaples camp in northern France. The VAD is both the object of...


Horses at details camp

Executed in pastel, this work depicts a number of horses tied up, with wagons full of soldiers and supplies, and tents in the background. Details camps accommodate personnel in transit; in this case the troops would be arriving in or departing Etaples via the port. The horses are emphasised in...


New Zealander

Depicts a standing portrait of a New Zealand First World War soldier in uniform. Isobel (Iso) Rae (1860-1940) was a painter and attended the National Gallery School, Melbourne in 1877-78, where she learnt to paint figure subjects. in 1887 she moved with her family to France and lived at Etaples, an...


Street cleaning, Sanitary Corps, Chinese and Negro

A Chinese and a French African or British West Indian worker from the British Labour Company Sanitary Corps street cleaning in the Etaples Army Base Camp, Etaples, France in 1917. By 1918 there were 92,129 Chinese and 1,212 British West Indies in the British Labour Company and 3,365 others. Rae has...


Rue de la Gare (Station Street)

The perspective of this drawing is from an upstairs window of the house in which Iso Rae lived with her sister and mother close to the railway station on the edge of the Etaples Army Base Camp. Tents in the Australian Camp can be seen in the background. Rae has depicted various nationalities:...


German prisoners working

1st Australian Imperial Force; group of German prisoners of war repairing pavement on railway platform, `Anzac Camp' in background, prisoners wearing white shirts with numbers and PG (Prisoners, German) on them; also wearing clothing items of German and French make, one wearing sabots. The building...


Troops arriving at Anzac Camp

1st Australian Imperial Force Camp. Australian troops marching into `Anzac Camp' at the Etaples Army Base Camp. The building in the foreground is the YMCA Gordon Hut.


Etaples, 1917

A French soldier with his mount at Etaples camp during the First World War. Verso: a rough sketch of a horse. Iso Rae was one of only two Australian women artists who depicted the First World War at close poximity to the front line. Strategically located near the coast of northern France, Etaples...


Australian Policing

Depicts an Australian soldier, wearing a hat and cape, captured while on patrol around the miltary camp at Etaples, in France. It is a spontaneous figure study, executed in a lively, yet loosely drawn style, providing a glimpse into the Australian experience of life behind the scenes in the largest...


Sentries at prisoners' tent

A soldier on guard, equipped with rifle, outside a tent housing prisoners. Rae has shown the typical bell tents used by the British Army. The front tent, brilliantly lit with a red warm glow and with a pile of guns would have been the guards' tent. The gas stoves used to boil the billies and the...


Expeditionary Force, Canteen-Depot

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...



Date of birth 1860-08-18
Date of death 1940-03-16