Welcome to my blog, featuring various pieces from my collection of Oz books, artwork and memorabilia!

Saturday, July 4, 2020

The Patriotic Mr. Neill

In 1917 the USA entered the First World War, a move that was not particularly popular with the nation. In order to help sway public opinion, the Division of Pictorial Publicity was formed. The popular artist Charles Dana Gibson was called upon, to help spearhead a campaign encouraging American artists to volunteer their talent in the creation of war-related posters.

As president of the Society of Illustrators, based on New York City, Gibson was well placed to help with the effort. New York was the center of the commercial art world in the USA, so there were plenty of artists to call on for contributions. Among those who answered the call was John R. Neill.

I have a small group of government letters sent to Neill during this period, providing information and occasionally asking for art or thanking him for his work. This painting accompanied the letters, but it’s not immediately clear whether it was used for its intended purpose.
  The painting shows the German Eagle crushing humanity in its talons, while bleeding copiously from the attack of Liberty Loan arrows. In spite of the presence of a 5th Liberty Loan arrow, I think this may have been intended for the 4th drive. The 4th arrow feels the most prominent, and Neill may have included the extra arrow in anticipation of a 5th drive. After all, he wasn't always the most attentive to details in his work!

There was a 5th drive, but that was in 1919 and was called the Victory Loan. The war was over, and help was needed to raise funds for rebuilding. According to one government letter, the theme for that final drive was to be a review of the nation's industries and resources - hardly the subject of this painting!

One of the letters thanks Neill for his contribution for the 4th campaign, so perhaps this is the piece referred to. On the back of the painting is Neill's signature and address, as well as a stamped box, to be filled out for Liberty Loan Window Displays. The presence of this box leads me to think that this artwork may have been used. I believe pieces of this sort were not necessarily intended to be made into posters, but were used in displays around the country. This is a large painting, close to 3 feet tall. Certainly the largest, and perhaps the most unsettling piece of Neill artwork in my collection!

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