During the Paraguayan – Triple Alliance war of 1864-70, an Argentinian low ranking officer made a name for himself. Not in the battlefield but just of outside it, with a paint-brush. Yes, being an active soldier, Cándido López no-doubt saw many battles in person yet because of his literacy, he made Second Lieutenant. Perhaps this gave him more free time, a wage to buy materials, or perhaps he just got lucky.
Cándido López began his career sketching for a photographer. In those days the shots were immaculately prepared and preliminary sketches were commonplace. Discovering a talent for likeness artistry, Cándido López took up painting too. When war broke out he applied his talent to the battlefield, often painting images that would be sent home for news.
Rather than showing the brutal reality of fighting, Cándido López depicted war in a detached and still-life manner. There were bodies and a bit of imagination will reveal the suffering behind the image, however the whole scene was the image and not a particular figure writhing in agony like other artists may have depicted. It's not a modern invention to show anguish in art, the decision to occult the pain of war seems to have been a deliberate one.
Why did Lopez do this? Some may say that his work served as a useful tool in recruitment. If the horror and tragedy of war was hidden from the casual viewer of the artwork, they may be more willing to join the fight. Brutal psychology tactics in a marketing scheme? Or a serious matter when the lives of so many and the way of life of so many more were being fought for?
Maybe it was a way for Cándido López to cope with his own war. Perhaps the confrontation of fear and death on a daily basis led him to seek out places where he could snicket away and paint. The avoiding of the nasty side to war perhaps was his own way of distancing himself from the terrible moments that he'd endured.
However the images came into being, perhaps the most important job they did at the time was to give the people at home a sense of hope and a diluted version so they felt more content. After-all it was their sons and fathers who were out there, in their brilliantly coloured uniforms. Wouldn't you rather think of them politely duelling among greenery and birdsong?
It was perhaps ironic that Cándido López's original trade of photography was to ultimately smash the illusion that he'd gracefully portrayed. The true reality of fighting was brought home to everyone during the next hundred years as several wars showed us all again and again how horrific and inhumane armed conflict is.
Regardless of how we feel about fighting, those in the fight have to be cool and clear headed. For the ones in battle, if they want to be a suitable candidate for the work they must be able to ignore the emotional reactions they may have in the face of pain and suffering. Any soldier has to do questionable acts yet they don't question them. They follow their training. We can only do this if our training is properly applied and we stay mentally focussed. Maybe works like that of Cándido López are exactly what soldiers need when learning their role.
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