Etched in Memory: The Elevated Art of J. Alphege Brewer
By Benjamin S. Dunham
As an American member of The Western Front Association, I have learned from numerous WFA presentations, countless WWI-related books, videos, and songs that there were many different kinds of 'soldiers' (in the broadest sense of the word) embroiled in the conflagration.
Those who did the actual fighting have rightfully earned and claimed that title, but so many others fit the wider definition of the word. They include everyone from home-front families to anti-war advocates, diplomats to espionage agents, journalists to photographers, supply side administrators to suffering civilians and refugees.
Others to be considered are visual artists, those who sketched, drew, and painted so many different aspects and elements of the war. While the best known is probably Louis Raemaekers—the Dutch painter and editorial cartoonist who became one of the most influential noncombatant voices of the war—there were many others doing important visual arts work.
One of those was artist J. Aphege Brewer (1881-1946), a Brit who served during the First World War, just not in the traditional way. Brewer drew scenes from Belgium and northern France that included cathedrals, churches, and town buildings threatened or damaged during the Great War. Throughout the conflict, it became fashionable in Great Britain, America, and many other countries to own—and prominently display—one of Brewer’s images (such as his 1914 etching of Rheims Cathedral) as a way for a family to show its support for the war. Arguably, his work also helped to gain and maintain American sympathies throughout the country’s period of neutrality and military involvement.
Now there is a book that celebrates and elaborates on Brewer’s artistic endeavours as well as the impact his pieces had on the general public Etched in Memory: The Elevated Art of J. Alphege Brewer.
Laid out in a large format paperback that does justice to the artwork, the book is broken down into a logical and chronological approach to the subject, starting with an extensive biography and moving into the artist’s early work, his wartime images, and specific techniques he used to create them. Extensive captions of his images, most notably in the chapter Wartime Etchings, give readers a greater connection to each work and the artist.
Etched in Memory will definitely be appreciated and enjoyed by artists and visual arts historians, but general art lovers and readers interested in a different perspective on the Great War will find much to recommend this book.
For more information > J.Alphege Brewer
Review by Jeffrey B. Miller