World War One paintings

One hundred years ago the war to end all wars began, it was called The Great War. It lasted over four years and millions were slaughtered to no avail, it all started again nineteen years later and was renamed World War One.

That war, The Great War 1914 -18, changed most everyone's lives including mine. I feel compelled to express my views of the conflict in paint and I do so very respectfully. This contemporary art - World War One paintings, are the results so far.

How was I affected by the Great War and why am I compelled to paint my reaction?


I was born at the close of the second world war, my parents had played their part as part of the Royal Air Force and my father was still serving. We were the victors and I did not as a child question that war was glorious. I was easily convinced that it was and grew up celebrating to the wonderful sounds of war - in my case Spitfires, Lancasters and other aircraft. My country had been victorious in two world wars how could I as a boy not believe that war was wonderful. 


That changed in 1986 when I visited Flanders the site of so many great battles of The Great War including The Somme. I went for no particular reason other than to satisfy my curiosity, I returned with a strong sense of sadness but I did not realise it had changed my whole outlook on war as well, that came later. We spent around four days looking at the monuments, cemeteries and old trenches. My strongest memory from many is the rows upon rows of gravestones all with the same engraving apart from the name and sometimes the age. Those young men were all killed on 1st July 1916 the fist day of the battle of the Somme. Just a few yards away was another cemetery with similar engravings except it was 2nd July. Thousands of men were slaughtered each day until it paused in November of that year; the result was a win of a few yards of bloody mud.


As I grew older I understood that I had changed my outlook on war, any war. In particular I detest the futile losses of that so called Great War and I want to say so in the best way I know how to - in my paintings. And that is what I am doing now

The paintings below are about The Great War (World War One). They are in chronological order, the series is not finished I do not know how many will emerge.

Colour has been a big part of my painting but here you will see the colour drain out of some; then sometimes I will repeat the painting adding it back; this is my way of exploring  the use of colour (or not). 

War begins >>>



Events leading up to the war were predictable, logical and stoppable. Fear and jealousy prevailed and the curtain was drawn back on destruction to come. 

dawning of war contemporary painting

And the war proceeds

Flanders a world war one soldier's journey painting by alan brain

Flanders was one of the large killing fields. It is now a serene beautiful place, in the Great War it was a place of death and corruption. This painting depicts a young man's expectation of his service in Flanders as a soldier of The Great War.

The Menin Road was much fought over essentially because it was a few feet higher than the surrounding fields and gave the troops some advantage - they had the high ground for a while. Ownership changed hands frequently during the battles. I have done the same design of painting three times below to experiment with colour or the absence of colour in the artwork.

Menim Road was a terrible battle area in 1916

world war one art menin road

menin road during the great war

Some more

world war one painting daddy

world war one painting daddy

<<< Daddy

This painting is for all those children who thought their fathers were now monuments. See the small child in the bottom left 



Poppies >>>

 Beautiful red poppies appear in thousands each spring in Flanders and disappear soon afterwards, just like the soldiers. No wonder it has become the British symbol of remembrance.  This painting connects a soldier's helmet to the poppy.


WW1 art Trench Refuge


<<< Trench





Trenches were where soldiers lived fought and died. 





>>> Trench II



trench warfare painting Refuge


The Somme >>>

The Battle of the Somme began on 1st July 1916. It petered out in November of that year. Over one million men were killed or wounded. No ground was won or lost, no advantage gained by either side.

battle of the somme contemporary war painting

Great War Battles Art The Somme

<<< The Somme, again

This is how I imagine the Somme would have appeared on November 12th. 1918. The war is over, the killing fields remain, deserted. No one wishes to go there. 

Paintings inspired by war - Aftermath

<<< Aftermath

The horrors of battle haunted the soldiers awake and asleep. Several hundred refused to fight again. They were shot by their own.

We have now recognised the affects of war on a combatant's mind and given it a name "Post Combat Fatigue" In 1914 it was called "Lack of Morale Fibre" or more directly "Cowardice" . Now we treat it in hospitals, then the soldier was shot by his pals. Some progress for mankind.

First world War Painting - Danger Tree

<<<< Danger Tree


Just one tree remained standing after the battles in Flanders during The Great War. It survived somehow. The men looked upon it with awe and a certain dread, it seemed to mock them



War >>>

Stark and chilling were the trenches and expectations of the soldiers. Perhaps they could find shelter and maybe warmth but the expectation of death was a constant companion 

contemporary war art

contemporary war painting about Flanders Fields

<<< Tommies


German troops christened the British troops Tommies. It was a respectful even a fond title for their enemy. They killed many thousands (as the British did to Fritz) and they are still in neat rows in Flanders fields. The name remains and is accepted proudly by the British Army.

Contact the Artist Directly Tel: U.K. 44 (0)7941 562 162

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  1. Donna Clark

    Hi Alan
    What a fantastic sequence of paintings. The first painting incorporates a feeling of hope, I love your use of the red and the protection of the white cube which shows solidarity if the forces work as one.I think the combination of reds in the first of the merlin roads is stunning the gravestones have got a human flesh quality which looks broken and raw. The middle greyish one is almost ghost like and the suggestion of a coffin as the space in the middle is very symbolic of death hanging over the soldiers in the trench.Is the colour (green tones a suggestion of the mustard gas that was used?
    The somme landscape is very powerful and desolute, nothing left to hope for.
    Keep up the good work!
    Are you still doing tuition as when I saw one of your exhibitions last year at Fairoaks you mentioned that you teach students. I have been working with acrylics for about a year now, painting mainly landscapes which I love, but my style is two tight and detailed. My training was in graphics and typography which I did professionally for 10 years. I am now a primary school teacher where I can be creative however I would like to be more flexible with my painting. Regards Donna Clark

    • Hi Donna
      Thank you for your comments, much appreciated.
      Call me on 07941 562 162 re tuition. A chat on the phone sorts things much more quickly and we can see how I can help
      Best wishes, Alan

  2. Alan, your series is very compelling and full of history, feeling and respect. The fact that you were on that hallowed land must have been a great motivating factor to your paintings. You have more to say, I’m sure. Let us see your next works. Your written descriptions are very powerful and meaningful too. Perhaps you are doing a book.

    All the best,
    Hazel Stone

  3. Philippa Hutton

    A very strong series with huge amount of feeling and personal commitment. Very powerful.

  4. Pam Hart

    Hi Alan,
    My partner and I visited the area two years ago.
    It was a very upsetting and moving experience.
    Your paintings bring back those feelings and we have been discussing our thoughts on the whole process of war.
    It is too late for many millions who have given their lives, but your paintings need a wider audience to make everyone think long and hard about the futility of conflict and where it may lead in the very near future.
    Look forward to you adding more to your collection on this subject.
    Kind regards,
    Pam Hart

  5. Hi Alan, Thanks for sharing this work. I am fascinated by how somber your work feels without the color element. Deeply moving.

  6. Kate Eichler

    Dear Alan, I met you a long while ago at your exhibition at Wellington College. Seeing your message here with the war time work I found really thoughtful especially using the colour of poppies with other much less cheerful shades.
    I went to an anniversary of the battle of Monte Casino with my father. He was a Germany paratrooper captured there by the Americans. He died in the U K now 5 years ago. I have been helping a writer with his book about personal stories about the men that did these parachute landings. The author is Greg Way with the publication coming out sometime soon.
    With my own artwork I put no personal stuff in it except using bright colours and mainly abstract. I very found that thinking about loosing the past generation for me has òleft an inbuilt sadness. Glad that it’s not all forgotten as fighting and killing is useless.

    • Hello Kate,

      Thank you for your additions to this post. Yes it very mixed and poignant the feelings we get about past conflicts. Oh if only we learnt! That’s a familiar cry of course and always lands on deaf ears.
      Best wishes,

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