The Wellcome Library has many paintings and photographs of World
War I (1914-1918). Apart from its effects on other countries, the
war transformed Great Britain in many ways: changes in women's
roles, the loss of a generation of young men, and the development
of medical radiography, to name but three.
The Wellcome pharmaceutical company scaled up enormously its
production of vaccines and antitoxins for the armed forces and
Henry Wellcome was keen to collect documents recording the war,
among them this painting. It shows a French front-line hospital at
the battle of Verdun. This terrible battle between the armies of
Germany and France lasted eleven months in 1916-1917 and ended in
over 750 000 casualties.
Many people in England received their impression of the war
through the eyes of illustrators such as Ugo Matania, who painted
this picture. He came from a well-known Neapolitan family of
illustrators, and his pictures of the war were published in the
English magazine "The Sphere".
This one was described as: "A French poste de secours [first aid
post] in a vaulted gallery beneath one of the forts of Verdun. Deep
down in the recesses of the fort is the poste de secours. The
vaulted gallery is lit with electric-light, for the dynamos are
still running. As the men come in they are helped to a seat on a
box or a pile of coats. Those that can stand are stripped and their
wounds promptly dressed. Another, with a severe head wound, takes
his seat at the operating table, and is skillfully attended by the
doctor in charge".
It was probably painted from pencil sketches carried out on the
spot, as the poor light and the intense activity would have made