World War I: The Battle for Courcelette (1918), by Louis Weirter.

In order to better understand the Canadian war effort over the course of the World War I (1914-1918), our class has been tasked with studying war art of the period and presenting information on the source, the topic of the painting, its purpose, and its historical relevance. These are the answers we, as a group, proposed through the study of the painting The Battle for Courcelette (1918) by Louis Weirter.
Battle  of Courcelette

Question #1: What aspect of war, or event, does this piece of art depict?

The piece of art, “Battle of Courcelette” by Louis Alexander Weirter, depicts the Battle of Courcelette, also sometimes known as the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, from a soldier’s point of view. It was painted two years after the battle. As is evident in the painting, the Battle of Courcelette, as well as the Battle of the Somme and fighting on the western front as a whole, was a chaotic bloodbath.

The Battle of Courcelette was the first major assault launched by the Canadian Army during the Battle of the Somme. This attack was launched the morning of September 15th, 1916 near the village of Courcelette in northern France. The Canadian Corps advanced along a two-kilometer front and implemented combined armed tactics. One of these tactics was the use of armoured tanks, which had not previously been used in battle. These tanks aided in the rapid capture of the defence bastion that was know as the “Sugar Factory”. After capturing the Sugar Factory, the Canadians continued all the way to the village of Courcelette.

Despite many counter-attacks by the Germans, the Canadians had officially captured the French village of Courcelette by the following day. This initial attack during the Battle of the Somme was both significant and successful for the Canadians.

Question #2: Who created this piece of art?

The Battle of Courcelette was painted by Louis Weirter, sometimes also known as Louis Whirter. Weirter was born in Edinburgh, Scotland and lived both in London and at Étaples, France. As a young adult, he studied at the Royal Scottish Academy Schools and later at schools in Paris.

Louis Weirter joined the army and served as a solider during World War One. He witnessed many of the allies’ battles at the Somme (“Canada and the First World War”), including the Battle of Courcelette which is illustrated in the painting. The painting, Battle of Courcellete, was bought for the national war collection at Ottawa. His other works such as the Peronne is also at Ottawa, and War in the Air is in the British War Museum. (“Louis Whirter” 13 12, 2013)

Louis Weirter was an original member of the Scottish Society of Artists, which is an artist-led membership organisation which promotes and encourages experimentation and “adventurous spirit” in contemporary art, as stated on their website.  He showcased his art at the Royal Academy of London, the Paris Salon, and other art exhibitions all over the world.  Weirter is best known for his pictures of World War One (“Louis Weirter, 1873-1932”), but he did some architectural paintings and etchings as well. Weirter’s obituary of 1932 states that he died on January 12 at his home in Onslow-gardens, London, at the age of 61. (“Louis Whirter Biography” )

Question #3: Where was this piece of art created?

“The Battle of Courcelette” by Louis Alexander Weirter was created during World War One in the village of Courcelette, France. The battle was part of the well-known Somme offensive, which lasted for months and had massive causalities for both the Allies and the Germans. The Canadian corps at Courcelette was commanded by Sir Douglas Haig who proceeded with the attack on September. 15th, 1916. The Canadians played a vital role in The Battle of Courcelette since it was the Canadian division who captured the village. As a result of this battle, the Canadians became known as “Storm Troops”. They had gained respect for their effort and bravery. The Allies success at Courcelette was partly due to new strategies and the unveiling of tanks for the first time in battle. The tanks were slow and not very effective in most situations, but they frightened and confused the enemy so they did have a slight advantage. The Allies also experimented with “creeping barrages”. This tactic was successful because it created massive shelling on enemy trench lines, which allowed the Canadian infantry to advance behind the barrage to cross No Man’s Land. The Battle of Courcelette was a very important victory for the Allies, however, they would not be as successful in the following battles. Courcelette taught the Allies valuable lessons and improvements that would be beneficial later on in combat.

Question #4: For what purpose was this art created?

Although the camera had been around for quite a few decades prior to the outbreak of the Great War (1914-1918), it was a widely held belief that the quality of photography at the dawn of the twentieth century was still lagging in some respects. Therefore, as the First World War dramatically erupted on various parts of the globe, it became apparent that war artists would once more be required (seeing as war artists had been used several times before, including during the Crimean War of 1853-56) in order to capture pivotal moments. The Battle for Courcelette, the painting at study, is an example of this.

The subject of the painting in itself is seared in the Canadian narrative; in fact, it is considered to be “one of the Canadians’ greatest achievements during the Battle of the Somme.” Although the painter, Louis Weirter, had been commissioned for a variety of battle-scene artwork, this particular piece was a rendition of what he himself had witnessed as a serving soldier.

It is an incredibly busy painting: numerous soldiers all across the canvas, some wounded while others are gripped in the midst of battle, rifles raised. It is very bleak and sombre; one needs only look at the painting to understand why it was created: not only would it be used as a means to commemorate this decisive battle and the people who fought in it, it also very accurately demonstrates the horror and the carnage that came to embody ‘modern warfare’, as well as the wreckage brought about by the “onset of trench warfare”. This is most certainly not a piece that would have been used for propaganda, seeing as it provokes feelings of sadness and despair, rather than a burst of nationalistic pride. However, it most certainly would be appreciated in later years as representative of the hardships Canadian soldiers faced against the German soldiers at the Somme, where “twenty-four thousand soldiers were killed and wounded for an advance of just six kilometres.”

Question #5: What does this piece of art tell us about the experience of war?

The painting “Battle of Courcelette” by Louis Alexander Weirter is a very busy piece that tells us a lot about the first-hand experience of war. The painting itself, done in 1918, sets the sombre tone of being amidst the chaos of battle through the use of fiery and earth-toned colours, representing the fire of artillery and the upending of the earth, and the distant perspective, allowing for broad visuals of the events of battle.

On the ground level of the painting, soldiers are depicted in trenches, as well as on foot, with shelling and artillery fire going on around and in front of them. So many men are depicted, in fact, that it is almost difficult to distinguish between them, and between them and the ground. This aspect of the painting shows how chaotic the First World War was, and how, in the middle of battle, soldiers were completely surrounded with other men, shelling, artillery fire, and war equipment. This chaos is also evidenced by Weirter’s depiction of the sky being filled with warplanes and smoke from explosions, showing that soldiers on the front lines were surrounded by battle on all sides during the Battle of Courcelette.

This tumultuous scene from the Great War is a great example of just how horrible being on the front lines would have been. The soldiers depicted in this painting are either tightly packed together in the background or tightly packed into the trenches in the foreground, and being surrounded with the smoke, flying debris, and the noise of gunfire and warplanes depicted would have added to the effect of the Battle of Courcelette being quite overwhelming.

Question #6: How accurate is this depiction of war?

This painting could almost be said to be a picture of how the battle actually looked like in this time. It was very accurate by showing the death and suffering the troops had to endure throughout the war. It shows no actual plant life save for the dead or dying trees in the battle. Explosions and troops advancement are shown. Men helping other fellow comrades are shown caring or helping wounded soldiers. A tank is also shown looking stuck, and that is pretty accurate because back when tanks were first used they got damaged or stuck easily and were not able to function anymore. It is also pretty accurate the bi-planes that were used in battle against other enemy planes or scouting enemy lines.

*Collective response on blog post for WWII art.


Sources used by the group:


Veterans Affairs Canada. “Courcelette Canadian Memorial.” Government of Canada, 02 07, 2014. (accessed March 17, 2014).

“Veterans Affairs Canada” The Somme. Government of Canada. Februrary.7th, 2014. Date accessed: March.20th, 2014.

Canada War Museum, “Canada and the First World War.” Accessed March 18, 2014., “Louis Whirter .” Last modified 13 12, 2013. Accessed March 18, 2014.

The Annex Galleries , “Louis Whirter Biography.” Accessed March 18, 2014.

The Modernist Journals Project, “Louis Weirter, 1873-1932.” Accessed March 18, 2014.

Oliver, Dean F., Laura Brandon et al. Canvas of War – Painting the Canadian Experience, 1914 to 1945. Toronto: Douglas & McIntyre, 2000 (pages 20 – 22).


Posted on March 20, 2014, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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