The service filed an “Unusual and compelling urgency” notice on Oct. 16 to pull the funds from its fiscal year 2014 Operations & Maintenance account to purchase a collection of 23 World War I painting by Samuel J. Woolf, an artist for Collier’s Weekly magazine who was embedded with American forces in Europe during the war.
Woolf’s paintings are so valuable to the service because they depict scenes of combat he was able to witness himself on the Western Front, and the Army claims that its own WWI art collection is rather thin.
Almost all of the Army’s WWI artwork was sent to the Smithsonian Institution upon conclusion of the conflict, stripping the service of the majority of the original artwork it once owned depicting the US combat actions which claimed 116,000 American lives.
Most of the American-produced art that we have been handed down from the war come from the brushes of a group of artists who were commissioned as captains in the Corps of Engineers, and subsequently sent to Europe to record the fighting.
Woolf remains a rather obscure figure, even if his paintings have floated around between various collections over the decades.
But the last time Woolf paintings were available for sale was in 1992, making this opportunity to buy 23 of them one that the Army doesn’t want to miss. After researching auction records from Sotheby’s and Christie’s auction houses, the service claims in its justification document that only nine WWI paintings have been sold worldwide over the past 20 years.
The Army calls the paintings “one of a kind historic documents” that are “the only known collection of this kind available at this time.”
Since the 19th century the Army has collected about 16,000 paintings, most of which are stored at the U.S. Army Center of Military History Museum Support Center*** at Fort Belvoir, Va.
***This post originally said that the Army stores its artwork at the National Museum of the United States Army. That building is still in the planning stages.
(Pic: “Rock of the Marne” courtesy of the US Army)