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The Kansas University Spencer Museum of Art is now home to one of the largest collections of World War I art in the country after a major gift from longtime art dealer Eric Carlson.
Stephen Goddard, associate director and senior curator of the Spencer, has known Carlson for about 30 years from Carlson's regular summer art-dealing trips for the International Fine Print Dealers Association.
Not long ago Goddard had mentioned in conversation the World War I-era artist Henry de Groux to Carlson, who studied at Yale University and taught at Harvard University and the State University of New York at Purchase.
Carlson told Goddard, "'If you're interested in World War I material, you should pay me a visit,'" Goddard said.
"I don't think any of us knew he had a secret passion for World War I," Goddard added
But it turns out art from World War I had been an intellectual obsession for Carlson for more than a decade. And this spring Carlson made a gift to the Spencer of his collection of more than 3,000 pieces of World War I-related art.
The collection, comprising mostly French art, features more than 200 artists and includes paintings, etchings, woodcuts, lithographs and illustrated books. It will also expand the existing World War I collection at the Spencer, which the museum showed off in the 2010 exhibition "Machine in the Void: World War I & the Graphic Arts."
As the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I nears, the museum will be letting departments across campus know about the collection so instructors can arrange to bring their classes to see the art and add another component to the curriculum on the war.
"It's hard to imagine a department that isn't in some way touched by World War I," given the pivotal role the war played in the cultural and social history of the 20th century, Goddard said.
Goddard hopes to also have a public display of the art available this summer, though the museum is still working out the details.
The kinds, themes and contexts of the World War I art follow a broad range, from nationalistic propaganda, to critiques of war, to the humorous. "There's a huge variety of vantage points," Goddard said.
Among the featured artists are Guy Arnoux, Eduardo García Benito, Georges d’Ostoya, André Devambez, Raoul Dufy, André Dunoyer de Segonzac, René Georges Hermann-Paul, Emile Laboureur, Auguste-Louis Lepère, Maximilien Luce, Jean-Louis Forain, Louis Raemaekers, Pierre Roche and Théophile Alexandre Steinlen.