American troops as seen by Jean Hugo

American troops as seen by Jean Hugo

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  • American military festival in Gondrecourt.

    HUGO Jean (1894 - 1984)

  • Washington Day, February 22, 1918.

    HUGO Jean (1894 - 1984)

  • Street scene.

    HUGO Jean (1894 - 1984)

  • Interior of a bar.

    HUGO Jean (1894 - 1984)

American military festival in Gondrecourt.

© ADAGP, Photo RMN-Grand Palais - R. G. Ojeda

Washington Day, February 22, 1918.

© ADAGP, Photo RMN-Grand Palais - R. Ojeda

© ADAGP, Photo RMN-Grand Palais - R. Ojeda

© ADAGP, Photo RMN-Grand Palais - R. Ojeda

Publication date: October 2005

Historical context

The end of the war as seen from the ranks of the US military

Assigned in 1917 to Lorraine as aide-de-camp and interpreter in the first division of the American expeditionary forces stationed at Gondrecourt, Jean Hugo easily found the time to fill out sketchbooks, write his diary and read extensively. The observer thinks he guesses that the line is a little forced; in some cases we are even close to caricature. But clearly we are a long way from the weariness and exhaustion of the classical historiography of the end of the war.

Image Analysis

On the sidelines of the pains of war, an almost unreal atmosphere

Away from the fire, Jean Hugo does not content himself with doing translations for Major Marshall; he also provides useful advice to newly arrived Americans who have not yet gone to battle, thus facilitating their relations with the more experienced French. One must not imagine a life of rest: it is in the area where Hugo is located that the first three American victims of the conflict died. During the Cantigny offensive in May 1918, the artist behaved in a heroic manner and received the Distinguished Service Cross. In the summer of the same year, he was transferred near Luxeuil to the pilots of the so-called "Bisons" squadron. Its scenes of party, coffee and cabaret mark as many breaks in the course of the days. There is no room for exuberant celebrations, on the contrary we note the rectitude of the bodies and the melancholy of the faces. The characters, otherwise anonymous, seem to be placed in settings with precise contours, where small objects appear that make one think of still lifes. The line and composition recall the work of Juan Gris, for example. Another element that appears in many illustrations of notebooks, the fascination for typographical signs such as acronyms (the "MP", for Military Police, on the armband of the large figure in the foreground in the Street scene) or advertisements for beverage brands (Interior of a bar).


A step in the genesis of an author

Jean Hugo seems to try to integrate the cubist vocabulary in the representation of the world, he tries to marry this way with his sustained interest in "everyday" situations and objects. In the world of painters, writers and composers who, in the wake of Guillaume Apollinaire, revolutionized theater, poetry, music and dance, he found not only intellectual stimulation, but also friends who collaborated with him through then, in the 1920s. His experience of combat, for its part, developed a particular spirit, made of fantasy and humor, and did not engender the cynicism that many of his contemporaries expressed after the war. In 1919, before finishing his service, Hugo filled two sketchbooks with a series of drawings, a visual journal, in a way, which recapitulates, dates and places in support, all his garrisons. This journey, which largely takes up the sketches that accompanied his diary, is both an assessment and a step towards other forms of expression. Hugo then turned towards a more classical figurative style, without however ever adopting the manner of Lucien Jonas (1880-1947), for example, who left Doughboys[1] a very realistic image, worthy of an army painter, and closer to the spirit of reporting. Hugo's work, composed intimately and intended to fuel his own memory, reveals a personal reflection, both moral and aesthetic.

  • War of 14-18
  • American intervention
  • Apollinaire (Guillaume)


Pierre VALLAUD, 14-18, World War I, volumes I and II, Paris, Fayard, 2004 Exhibition catalogJean Hugo, Drawings of the war years (1915 - 1919)Paris, editions RMN and Actes Sud, 1994. Mario ISNENGHIWWIParis-Florence, Casterman-Giunti, 1993.


1. Doughboys: This nickname designated the American infantry, numbering a million on French soil in 1918.

To cite this article

Hervé CULTRU, "American troops seen by Jean Hugo"

Video: History of World War 2 in One Take. History Bombs


  1. Hudhayfah

    your sentence is incomparable ... :)

  2. Kennan

    This does not suit me at all.

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