“Gassed,” by John Singer Sargent, depicts soldiers blinded by a mustard gas attack in World War I. Imperial War Museums
“Gassed,” by John Singer Sargent, depicts soldiers blinded by a mustard gas attack in World War I. Imperial War Museums


‘Astounding’ World War I painting on loan from UK coming to Kansas City

By Matt Campbell


January 12, 2018 03:06 PM

The painting is so large the museum had to build a special exhibit space for it.

The 9-foot-by-21-foot painting on loan from the United Kingdom will be the first exhibit in the new Wylie Gallery at the National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City from Feb. 23 to June 3.

“Gassed,” by American artist John Singer Sargent, depicts British soldiers blinded by a gas attack on the Western Front, hands on the shoulder of the man in front as they are guided to a medical station.

“This is a pretty astounding thing for us to be able to have it here on loan and on exhibition,” said Doran Cart, senior curator at the museum at Liberty Memorial. “We’re highly regarded by the Imperial War Museums” in England. “Their director general is on our international advisory board, and she’s been here.”

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Sargent witnessed this scene in the aftermath of a mustard gas attack near Arras, France, in August 1918, just weeks before the Armistice ended the war. Scenes like this had become routine, which explains why other soldiers can be seen playing soccer in the background.

“‘Gassed’ is a national treasure in the United Kingdom, and bringing this magnificent painting to the National World War I Museum and Memorial stands as one of the most important achievements in our history,” museum President Matthew Naylor said.

Bringing it is no simple task.

Officials here had this painting in mind when they designed a new 3,500-square-foot Wylie Gallery in previously empty space beneath the deck of the Liberty Memorial. Oversize doors from a loading dock were necessary to fit the painting inside. It will occupy nearly the entire center wall of the new space.

Because the work, in oil on canvas, cannot be rolled or folded, it has to be shipped within a crate as big as it is, weighing about a ton.

The painting will travel here from the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville in a climate-controlled truck and will have to acclimate in the climate-controlled Wylie Gallery for a couple of days before it is uncrated. It will take at least a dozen people to get it off the truck.

Its original frame travels in four pieces and must be reassembled. Then the painting will be carefully lowered face-down into the frame and the whole thing will be placed on wall brackets. The official who oversaw the installation at the Frist will be here to supervise. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is also contributing expertise and information about the artist, who is known for his portraiture.

The painting has been on tour to various institutions in North America while its home exhibit space in London is being renovated. This is only the second time it has been in the United States, and Kansas City is the only stop in the Midwest. The visit coincides with the ongoing centennial observations of World War I, also known as the Great War.

The Guardian newspaper included “Gassed” among “the 1,000 artworks to see before you die.”

“Seeing this painting in person is an absolutely unique experience,” said Cart. “The size, scope, magnitude and artistry of ‘Gassed’ certainly places the work as one of the most seminal in the modern era.”

The exhibit here will also include objects relating to gas warfare from the National World War I Museum’s collection as well as more modern items from the U.S. Army Chemical Corps Museum at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri.

The museum will charge a separate $3 admission fee to the Wylie Gallery, which in the future will be used to showcase other premium displays.

“That’s the idea of this new gallery space,” said Mike Vietti, marketing director for the museum. “The Wylie Gallery is an opportunity for us to bring in special exhibitions that wouldn’t otherwise come here.”

Matt Campbell: 816-234-4902, @MattCampbellKC