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An Artist’s War

The art & letters of Morris & Alice Meredith Williams

 

Phyllida Shaw

The History Press, 2017

A beautifully produced book, which does the subject justice. Morris Meredith Williams was an art master at Fettes (Blair’s alma mater) when World War One started. He eventually succeeded in joining the army, and was commissioned into the 17th Bn of the Welsh Regiment. He saw service in the Loos, Arras, Somme region in 1916/7.

 

Photography in the trenches was officially banned, but this did not prevent some officers taking some fascinating shots – see my review of Fred’s War here. But painting and sketching could not be banned, and Morris saw the war through his artist’s eye. The bulk of this book is illustrated with his highly evocative pencil sketches, with occasionally an oil or watercolour, done from these sketches after the war. His style is soft, almost romantic, and in sharp contrast to the angularity and anger of some better known WW1 artists such as Paul Nash. Morris’ portraits have more affinity with, say, Orpen.

 

The illustrations are interspersed with letters to and from Morris to his wife, Alice, a sculptor. These can descend to the domestic and banal, but have some interest. The author is indirectly descended from Morris’ second wife, from whom she presumably inherited the material.

 

Morris was so keen to do justice to the scenes that he had witnessed that he lobbied hard to become one of the few official artists to be allowed to revisit the battlefields after the Armistice. It was this that enabled his major works to be done at more leisure. Many of the illustrations are sourced as coming from “A Private Collection” – all I can say is that there are some lucky private collectors about!