Postcards from the Trenches: Germans and Americans Visualize the Great War

World War I

Tuesday, 19 August 2014 – Saturday, 27 September 2014
Pepco Edison Place Gallery, 702 8th St. NW
No charge
+ 1 (202) 872-3396
World War I, Otto Schubert postcards courtesy Private Collection, USA
World War I, Otto Schubert postcards courtesy Private Collection, USA

This exhibition seeks to highlight one aspect of the war experience: the imagery produced by ordinary soldiers who were drafted or commissioned into the conflict.

One of those soldiers was the German painter Otto Schubert. A rising star in Dresden’s pre-war modernist movement, Schubert served in the German army from the end of 1914 to mid-1916, when he was severely injured. At the front, soldiers received government-approved “field postcards” (Feldpostkarten) to communicate with their loved ones on the home front. Instead of writing on the blank 4” x 6” cards, Schubert conveyed his wartime experiences in exquisitely-rendered drawings and paintings. The sentences he occasionally wrote were relegated to the thinnest of margins, essentially serving as a frame for the image. On 80 postcards, Schubert pictorially captured the daily realities and tragedies of the Great War. While a number of other soldier-artists also rendered their frontline experiences in quickly executed images, Schubert’s trench postcards are among the most remarkable.

Soon after the United States entered the war in 1917, the U.S. Commission on Public Information, created to coordinate government propaganda efforts, suggested the idea of official war artists. The Army commissioned eight artists as captains in the Corps of Engineers to record their impressions of the conflict beginning in March 1918. Subjected to danger just like ordinary soldiers, these eight individuals produced more than five hundred depictions of their experiences on the Western Front.   

In addition to a large selection of postcards, the most ubiquitous form of communication during the war, the exhibit will feature graphic works, posters, sheet music and objects.  Lectures, film series, and discussions will take place during the exhibition.


Opening and Gallery Talk
Tuesday, August 19, 6 – 8:30 pm
Postcards from the Trenches: Why We Should Still Care About World War I

Keynote and Reception
Tuesday, September 9, 6 – 8:30 pm
From Fact to Allegory and Beyond: Images of the First World War

Poetry Reading
Tuesday, September 23, 6 – 8:30 pm
Poetry Witnesses Wars from the Civil War to World War I

Co-Curators: Marion F. Deshmukh, George Mason University & Irene Guenther, University of Houston

German Foreign OfficeSupported by the German Foreign Office and the German Information Center USA at the German Embassy.

The Goethe-Institut Washington will present a film series titled Film Captures the Great War in conjunction with the exhibition.

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