It's been almost a century since C.R.W. Nevinson’s Troops Resting was last seen in public.

The work, which is featured in June's Modern & Post-War British Art, was a centrepiece of Nevinson’s seminal 1916 exhibition at the Leicester Galleries - an event that was attended by the likes of Sir Winston Churchill and George Bernard Shaw.

Troops Resting is one of the most significant works of art from World War I to come to auction in recent years and is one of very few works from that 1916 exhibition still in private hands. It was bought from the Leicester Galleries for the princely sum of eight guineas by artist Vera Waddington, who knew the artist and treasured this drawing until her death.


The pastel depicts Nevinson’s most powerful and sought-after subject – French soldiers as the unshaven ‘poilus’. Poilu, literally translating to ‘hairy one’, was a widely used term of endearment for the French infantrymen of World War I – who, unlike their British counterparts at the time, were conscripts rather than volunteers. The portrayals of these enduring, suffering and stoic soldiers possess an unparalleled bite, power and resonance.

This particular image conjures both pathos and humour, down to the detail of one man taking the opportunity to relieve himself against a telephone pole (thought to be the first time such an act has appeared in British art). 

Within a few weeks of the outbreak of war, Nevinson journeyed to the front and began his stint as an ambulance driver helping to tend to hundreds of terribly wounded soldiers. The deeply disturbing sights he witnessed, evidence of what havoc modern weapons could inflict on the human body, stayed with him for the rest of his life.

The artist married in November 1915, and reputedly in the last two days of his leave painted one of the most famous images of the war – also featuring French soldiers – La Mitrailleuse, which is now at the Tate. The considerable critical attention and publicity that picture received after it was first shown in the Grafton Galleries in March 1916 led to Nevinson being offered a solo exhibition at the prestigious Leicester Galleries.

Despite the show being a tremendous success, Nevinson announced shortly afterwards that he was finished with the war as a subject, but within six months he had been recruited as an official war artist by the new Department of Information.

Troops Resting will be offered with an estimate of £150,000–250,000 in the Modern & Post-War British Art Evening Sale in London on 13 June.