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War (After the Blitz War)

Published onJan 28, 2022
War (After the Blitz War)

Christian Petersen (Danish-American, 1885-1961)

War (After the Blitz War), 1940

Limestone

In the collection of the Fisher Governor Foundation, Marshalltown, Iowa.

No other conflict in history caused as much destruction and displacement of populations as did World War II.  The terror visited upon civilians, especially those least able to defend themselves, such as women, children, and the elderly, is the subject of Petersen’s work here. Though he portrayed the mother and child from the waist up, a sense of flight is present as the woman, looking back toward some sort of threat, clings to her baby. Preparatory drawings, shown nearby, reveal that Petersen carefully considered the exact positioning of the mother’s glance to maximize the emotional impact.

By the title, we know that Petersen was thinking of the Nazi war tactic known as blitzkrieg. The term means “lightning war” and refers to the speed and surprise of the attack.  The Nazis never declared war against any nation before their attacks, so that these countries did not have time to marshal their defensive forces nor, importantly, to evacuate or prepare their civilian populations.  As the tanks, planes, and infantry overran the towns and countryside, the chaos created among non-combatants could impede a defensive military response.  War (After the Blitz War) may be a visualization of the terror experienced by thousands of Europeans as the Nazis rolled through country after country. 

It is also possible that Petersen was thinking specifically of the blitz that Hitler’s Luftwaffe carried out against Great Britain from September, 1940 to May of 1941.  Having conquered the European continent and expelled the British army from France at Dunkirk, Hitler prepared to cross the English Channel. Among his first goals was the destruction of the Royal Air Force, but soon his bombing raids expanded beyond military targets and began a program of destruction against British cities, London in particular. The RAF, however, was not destroyed but defended the United Kingdom, leading the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, to make his famous declaration, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”  Finally, the Battle of Britain ended when Hitler decided to divert his forces to the east in preparation for his invasion of the Soviet Union in June of 1941.

In contrast to Old Woman in Prayer (The Refugee), these figures are nude.  Nudity in art usually connotes an ideal or a universal state.  Obviously, these figures are not in an ideal situation, but Petersen is using nudity here to imply the universality of the situation, and also, perhaps, the vulnerability of the woman and her child.  By not clothing the figures, especially the mother, they can be associated with human beings in general, not just a specific country or time.

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