Man on a wagon.

MARCH 5, 2022–May 30, 2022


Images have long been an accompaniment to war, whether to document fast-paced events in the heat of battle, to sway public opinion through propaganda, or to convey deep emotions like grief and fear. As They Saw It presents four centuries of war imagery from Europe and the United States, with an emphasis on the period 1820–1920. The artists featured in this exhibition were not simply bystanders. Many of them served as soldiers or had been expressly commissioned as war artists. To a great extent, artists’ nationality and backgrounds influenced the version of events they chose, or felt compelled, to present. Even those who worked far from the front lines were engaged in one side or the other of a battle of images—with representations of war playing a substantial role in how the parties to a conflict were perceived and how military and civilian experiences were interpreted, both in the moment and long afterward.

From a modern perspective, photography may seem like the most powerful tool for documenting war because of its assumed truth-value. Yet we know this is far from guaranteed. Nonphotographic media like drawings and prints may sometimes convey greater intensity of feeling. Even in the era of photography, there was still a demand for handmade, “interpretive” images of war. Artists continued to rely on more traditional media to tackle wrenching subjects like violence, cruelty, bodily injury, loss of loved ones, and death—which suggests that perhaps there were certain places that the camera could not go, or certain aspects of war that photography was powerless to express. Regardless of the medium, images from conflicts long past force a reconsideration of standard narratives and a confrontation with profound human experiences and emotions.

Admission to the Clark is free to all veterans, active-duty military, and their families from March 5–May 30.