LONDON – Undoubtedly one of the most arresting sights surrounding this year’s Armistice Day has been the ever-growing river of poppies flowing from the Tower of London. Today – 11 November: the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War – the last of the 888,246 will be placed, marking the death of the final British soldier to fall in the conflict, believed to be Private George Edwin Ellison of the 5th Royal Irish Lancers.
ABOVE: BLOOD SWEPT LANDS AND SEAS OF RED, POPPY INSTALLATION AT THE TOWER OF LONDON TO MARK THE CENTENARY OF THE FIRST WORLD WAR. © RICHARD LEA-HAIR AND HISTORIC ROYAL PALACES.
In this centenary year, the ceremonies have an added poignancy as the last of those with a living memory of the war have passed away. In their place, the contemporary diaries, books, paintings, photographs and films become all the more significant, evoking a now disappearing era.
SIR JOHN LAVERY R.A., R.H.A., R.S.A., ADMIRALTY ARCH, 19 JULY 1919. ESTIMATE £300,000–500,000.
One such visual record is Sir John Lavery’s Admiralty Arch, 19 July 1919, documenting the celebrations for first Victory Parade after the conclusion of the treaty of Versailles formally ended the war on 28 June 1919. Nearly 15,000 servicemen and women participated in the parade, led by Field Marshall Haig, General Pershing, Admiral Beatty and Marshal Foch, and cheered on by thousands. At Whitehall they saluted a temporary wood and plaster monument, the Cenotaph, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens.
Having been an Official War Artist, John Lavery was well chosen to document the day’s events and practised at recording pageants. Lavery’s vantage point is from Carlton House on the Mall, where he erected his portable easel, a stout wooden box on extendable legs that enabled him to execute standard 25 by 30 inch canvases and prepared canvas-boards on the spot. As an artist-reporter he was used to working quickly, and in Admiralty Arch, 19 July 1919 he has created a vibrant and contemporary image of the first commemoration of the war.
Charlie Minter is a specialist in the British & Irish Art department, Sotheby’s London.