Art of Nation. Australia's offical art and photograph of the First World War

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I use the interactive?

The primary controls used in Art of nation are the mouse and keyboard. Movement is controlled by the arrow keys or the W-A-S-D keys, while the mouse controls your point of view. A navigation guide video has been prepared and is available on the Memorial’s YouTube page.

What platforms is Art of nation compatible with?

Art of nation is an innovative new way of presenting an online exhibition in a realistic 3D space from within your web browser, without having to download additional software. It can be accessed using browsers such as Chrome, Firefox, or Edge that are compatible with WebGL. Owing to its size, the interactive does not work on smart phones or tablets.

Why haven’t the large paintings been mapped?

The paintings have not been mapped, as they were produced in the artists’ studios, predominantly in England and Australia. The maps capture the journeys of the official war artists and photographers and the works they created in the field.

Why do some works not have maps?

Most of the maps relate to official war artists or photographers who created works in the field as part of their deployment. A small number of works were not made by official war artists but by others commissioned by Bean, either because they had personally witnessed the events depicted or because none of the official war artists were available. Ellis Silas and George Coates are exceptions; they were neither official war artists nor commissioned, but the Memorial’s holdings of their wartime works are extensive enough to be mapped.

Why does Street View not work everywhere?

This is either because the work was created in one of the countries that doesn’t have Google maps, or because the scene depicted is in an area without roads. For further information about where Google has collected Street View maps visit the website.

Why in most cases are 25 field sketches mapped for each of the official war artists?

The artists were contracted to produce 25 sketches in the field, with the expectation that they would then be contracted to create a “big historical picture” on a subject suited to their practice and what they had witnessed in the field. Almost all of the artists produced more in the field than they were contractually obliged to do, and these extra works were given to the Memorial. There are approximately 1,500 such field sketches now in the collection, of which 400 have been mapped in Art of nation.

Who was Charles Bean?

Charles Bean was born in Australia but raised in Britain. He returned to Australia in 1904, aged 25, and became a reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald. In 1914 Bean was nominated by the Australian Journalists’ Association to accompany the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) as the nation’s official war correspondent, and he joined the troops on Gallipoli and the Western Front. After the war he was appointed to write the official history of Australia’s participation in the conflict. He also set up the Australian War Records Section and was the founder of the Australian War Memorial, to be built in Canberra.

What is the difference between “official war artist” and “official AIF war artist”?

There were two official war art schemes operating simultaneously: the “official war art scheme”, managed by H.C. Smart at the Australian High Commission, appointed Australian civilian artists referred to as “official war artists”; while the “official AIF war artists” were appointed from the ranks of the AIF and managed by John Treloar at the Australian War Records Section. Despite the duplication, the programs were interwoven, with Smart and Treloar working closely together in London and Bean advising from France. The collection is now all referred to as “official war art”.

How have the paintings in the art gallery been arranged?

The paintings have been hung in chronological order of the events depicted, following Bean’s list of commissions and his approach to other exhibition displays.

Why display the art collection as Bean intended within Bean’s original plan for the building?

The museum was intended to be a memorial to only one conflict, the “war to end all wars”. Instead, by the time the actual building opened on 11 November 1941 Australia was in the midst of an even larger war, where even the mainland came under direct threat from the enemy. The structure of this interactive highlights the fact that the building could never have anticipated the scale or even the existence of a Second World War.

The official war art collection is thereby shown as it was originally conceived. While select examples of these larger paintings have been exhibited in the Memorial’s permanent galleries as part of mixed collection displays, or in temporary exhibitions, such as retrospectives of a particular artist, they have never been seen together in one exhibition. Moreover, the same paintings have been exhibited repeatedly, so perhaps as few as eight of these paintings are reasonably well known. Consequently, only specialist audiences know the true extent of the official war art collection, and no one has ever seen the paintings hanging together.

Are there plans to change the exhibitions?

Art of nation was developed to commemorate the centenary of the First World War and, specifically, the beginning of the official art and photography schemes. Although there are no immediate plans for changeover, the platform used allows for new exhibitions to be displayed in the future.

Can I visit the exhibition in person? Where else can I see the works of art and photographs?

The content used in the exhibition is available to view via the Memorial’s online collection database. Some of the paintings, drawings, and photographs are on display in the Memorial’s First World War Galleries, and you can check the collection record to see whether a work of art is currently exhibited at the Memorial.

Use the following links to view all the collection items included in Art of nation:

How did you map the works of art and photographs?

Details about the research process used to map the items in this exhibition can be found on the Memorial’s blog

Bean’s sketch has spaces dedicated to other collections, like documents. Why haven’t these been displayed?

Art of nation was conceived around the art and photographs collection. The large scale of the historic exhibition, Australian official war pictures and photographs, meant that the small gallery originally dedicated to photography in Bean’s sketch was insufficient to contain all the images, and it was decided to utilise the documents gallery for this purpose. It is hoped that will be scope in the future to revisit this display and possibly deliver new exhibitions from other collection areas in the Memorial.

Why are pejorative terms like “boche” used in the captions?

The 1918 exhibition, Australian official war pictures and photographs, used terminology now considered outdated and offensive. For accuracy, these captions have been transcribed directly from the original catalogue. This language is reflective of the time and does not reflect the attitudes of the Memorial today.

Why aren’t all the photographs attributed?

It has so far not been possible to identify the individuals responsible for many of the official photographs taken in the First World War. No records attributing photographers were maintained at the time, and this is why many images in our online catalogue refer to an “unknown Australian official photographer”. Research into attributions is ongoing.

Are the photographic prints used in Australian official war pictures and photographs still held by the Memorial?

The images used in the online exhibition are digital scans of – in most cases – original black-and-white glass-plate negatives. The exhibition originally featured toned black-and-white prints made by the photographic studio Raines & Co. in Ealing, London. Many of these were returned to Australia and displayed in temporary exhibitions in Sydney and Melbourne. The locations of these prints are unknown.

How did you determine the sizes of the photographs given there are no dimensions recorded in the catalogue?

The sizes of the images have been based on the crate sizes listed on file (AWM27 621/7). Where the size is known, the digital scan has been sized according to the longest edge, ensuring the overall aspect of the image is retained. Although we know Frank Hurley cropped many of the photographs for display, no photographs documenting the display exist, and we have not attempted to recreate his creative choices. For several photographs, no sizes exist. The sizes of these images have been based on the most common size in the exhibition.

Where can I find out more information about Hurley and his composites?

The Memorial holds the components used by Hurley to create his composites as well as some examples of his final scenes. Unfortunately, these alone cannot reveal all the techniques he and the darkroom technicians used in developing these impressions. The animations are therefore only an approximation of his process.

For more information about Hurley and his composites please see:

Shaune Lakin, Contact: photographs from the Australian War Memorial collection, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 2008.

Martyn Jolly, “Composite propaganda photographs during the First World War” in History of photography 27:2, 2003, pp. 154–65.

Robert Dixon, “Spotting the fake: C.E.W. Bean, Frank Hurley and the making of the 1923 photographic record of the war” in History of photography 31:2, 2007, pp. 165–79.

Robert Dixon, Photography, early cinema and colonial modernity: Frank Hurley’s synchronized lecture entertainments, Anthem Press, London, 2011.

Martyn Jolly and Kate Morschel, “Frank Hurley: composite photography in the Great War”, Raw Magazine 8, April 2017.