A picture of the Salonika campaign?

I was pleased to hear from Joel Garzoli an art dealer from San Francisco. We are truly global! Joel had a question about a picture in his collection, a First World War painting by American artist Gilbert Gaul, called ‘Directing Traffic’. Does the painting depict a scene from the Salonika campaign?

A painting called 'Directing Traffic' by Gilbert Gaul

At first glance I can see why Joel may think this: the sunshine, the colours and costumes don’t immediately make you think of the Western Front. Fortunately I had the chance to meet with SCS committee colleagues and we pored over the picture and, although we didn’t come to any firm conclusion, we thought Salonika unlikely. The two mounted soldiers just don’t look British, unless they are ‘impressionistic’ (i.e. with no pretence of an accurate depiction of British soldiers). US Army seems the most likely, but certainly not Greek or Serbian. The pack of the seated soldier on the left with his back to the viewer certainly isn’t British (whose large packs were very rectangular) and could also be American. The seated figures to the right – and the mule driver – in peaked caps look more British, though. As to the other figures and background it could be Greece or just as likely France or Belgium.

A close up of a road sign in 'Directing Traffic' by Gilbert GaulWe’re not sure the text on the sign is intended to be a specific place – the letters could be from the Roman or Greek alphabets but seem to make no sense in either!

Having looked at some of Gilbert Gaul’s other work online – he illustrated for Century Magazine, Harper’s and Collier’s during the period – I would say that although he does seem to be quite impressionistic at times, his WW1 paintings are of the US Army. The choice of Salonika – a theatre in which the USA played no part (USA and Bulgaria were not at war) – would seem to be an ‘off the wall’ subject for him and, had he chosen it, I imagine he would have painted something more distinctive and obviously ‘foreign or exotic’ (e.g. mountains, mosques, local inhabitants, the city of Salonika) and made it explicit in the title. It’s an interesting picture, nonetheless. If you have any thoughts about it, please get in touch.

Author: Andy Hutt

Andy's interest in the campaign comes from his grandfather, Arthur, who served in Salonika as a sapper with the Royal Engineers from 1916-1918. Opinions expressed in these posts are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Society.

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