‘Damage Inspection’ 2020, oil on canvas, 50x70cm.
I created this painting as a reaction to the following story. On 29 March 1918, a few months before the end of the Great War, the roof of the Église Saint-Gervais in Paris was hit by a shell. It came from a newly developped enormous gun the Germans had located at a 100 kilometers from Paris. At the very moment the shell hit the roof, the congregation was gathered together to celebrate Good Friday. The roof collapsed with thunderous roar, killing 91 people.
One of them was Rose-Mary André-Michel Ormond, 24 years old, favorite niece of the famous painter John Singer Sargent. She had married Robert André-Michel in 1913. Robert joined the army at the beginning of the war and fell in action in October 1914.
Rose-Mary had originally volunteered for service with the Red Cross, but with Robert gone, she needed to commit more fully to the war effort. So in 1915 she joined the nursing staff at the newly-established rehabilitation hospital at Reuilly, dedicated to treating soldiers who had been blinded by armaments or mustard gas.
The loss of Rose-Mary, who had posed for Sargent many a times, affected Sargent deeply. After the war, Sargent painted a huge masterpiece for the British government, called ‘Gassed’. The banded-eyed soldiers must have visually recreated for him the blinded soldiers to whom Rose-Mary had dedicated the last years of her life. When I discovered a photograph from a newspaper showing the havoc after the impact of the shell at the Saint-Gervais Church, I simply had to paint the strange scene of the all this rubble, under which I imagined the heavily damaged body of Rose-Mary.
The subject of the painting are the three male figures right in the center, inspecting the damage shortly after the impact; you can see the dust still whirling…
‘Gassed’, 1919, by John Singer Sargent, oil on canvas, 231×611,1cm, Imperial War Museum, London.
‘Nonchaloir’, 1911, by John Singer Sargent, oil on canvas, 63,8×76,2cm, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C