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 "DAZZLE" SHIPS

 Artist, Tobias Rehberger, created a contemporary dazzle design for HMS President (1918) as part of 14-18 NOW, WW1 Centenary Art Commissions.

This temporary artwork took as its starting point a style of optical distortion used extensively in the First World War, called "Dazzle" painting.

Devised by British Artist Norman Wilkinson, and supervised by vorticist artist Edward Wadsworth, the camouflage technique incorporated bold shapes and strong contrasts, with an aim to confuse rather than conceal. HMS President (1918) is one of three surviving WW1 warships. It was "dazzled" on its launch in 1918 under its original name HMS Saxifrage.



(Above and below - River Thames, London, August 2014)
                  

 (Below) Liverpool's "Snowdrop" Ferry, in Dazzle paint, for the WW1 Centenary (design by Sir Peter Blake)

                        

(Below - Dazzle Ship, Albert Dock, Liverpool)

          
                                                                         
Norman Wilkinsonís dazzle designs have been compared to what in 1917 was considered a revolutionary movement in modern art, called cubism.

          Norman Wilkinson

While there is an overlap in appearance between dazzle and cubist art, Wilkinson himself was anything but a modernist. He was a celebrated marine painter and talented poster artist.

He was commissioned to create paintings for the elegant smoking rooms on board the Titanic and the Olympic. Wilkinson was passionate about ships and the sea. It inspired him to travel from Europe, to the US, Bahamas and Brazil. He also produced beautiful landscape art. His work was used by The London & North Western Railway and London Midland & Scottish Railway to advertise their routes.

Wilkinsonís art now takes pride of place in collections including the National Maritime Museum,
Royal Academy of Arts and the Royal Society of British Artists.

Born in 1878, he studied at Portsmouth and Southsea School of Art, and found early work selling his drawings to newspapers. He built a career at the Illustrated London News before signing-up for the Navy after the outbreak of war in 1915. As a Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve lieutenant-commander, whilst on submarine patrol, he faced the dangers of the Gallipoli campaign, then returned to Britain in 1917 to serve on a minesweeping ship.
It was here that his idea for dazzle was born - a concept to camouflage allied ships to prevent them from being accurately targeted by a confused enemy !

"I suddenly got the idea that since it was impossible to paint a ship so that she could not be seen by a submarine, the extreme opposite was the answer - to paint her, not for low visibility, but in such a way as to break up her form and thus confuse a sumbarine officer as to the course on which she was heading."
 

Examples of their striking colours can be  found at the collection of the Imperial War Museum, London.

IWM_models_AA

These were made by the Dazzle Section at the Royal Academy of Arts, at Burlington House in London. Scale models were painted and used to test dazzle designs. They were placed on a rotating turntable and viewed through a periscope. This allowed Wilkinsonís team to see how dazzle distorted a shipís form as if it were travelling in different directions. Wilkinson believed that using strong contrasts, with light and dark greys, blues and greens, was most effective.



(below) Norman Wilkinson's Dazzle Section team members

(above) "Dazzle ships in dry dock", Liverpool 1919 painting by Norman Wilkinson 

Norman_Wilkinson_Moonlight_Painting

(above) "Moonlight", painting by Norman Wilkinson

Wilkinson appointed dock officers at ports around Britain. They supervised the painting of ships from the finished designs. One dock officer was the artist Edward Wadsworth. He was a founder of Vorticism - a British art movement that grew out of Cubism.

Edward Wadsworth

The Admiralty experimented with various camouflage ideas during WW1. They had considered similar proposals by US artist Abbot H Thayer and the Scottish zoologist John Graham Kerr. However, it was Wilkinsonís scheme that won them over. After the war the Royal Commission on Awards to Inventors awarded him £2000 and recognised him as the creator of dazzle.

By the end of WW1 about 3,000 British and 1,256 American ships had been painted in dazzle designs.
The effectiveness of dazzle to keep ships from getting sunk was never proven, although the United States said many ships had been saved....the Royal Navy also acknowledged that their sailors on those ships just felt better knowing that something had been tried to keep them from getting torpedoed.



"A DAZZLE CAMOUFLAGE SOURCEBOOK"
Edited by Roy R. Behrens  (ISBN 10-0971324476 ISBN 13-978-0971324473) (2012)



"Dazzle-Painted Ships of World War 1 
by Glyn L Evans  (ISBN 10-1902953738 ISBN 13-978-190295373) (2015)




"DAZZLE - DISGUISE AND DISRUPTION IN WAR AND ART"
by James Taylor (ISBN 10-191086014X ISBN 13-978-1910860144) (2016)



"DAZZLE SHIPS - WORLD WAR 1 and the ART of CONFUSION"
by Chris Barton (ISBN 13-978-1-5124-1014-3 ISBN 10-1512410144) (2017)



"DAZZLE, DISRUPTION & CONCEALMENT"
by David L. Williams (ISBN 10-0750996811 ISBN 13-978-0750996815 (2022)



"Razzle Dazzle - United States Navy Ship Camouflage in World War 1"
by James H. Bruns (Kindle ASIN: B0BNXSQHDM) (2022)


Some images of WW1 Dazzle Ships are shown below:

SS OSTERLEY (above)


HMS PEGASUS (above)

HMS ARGUS in 1917 (above and below)

HMS_Argus_1917

HMS KILLBRIDE (above)

HMAS MELBOURNE (above)


HMS LONDON(above)


LAKE WINOOSKI 1919 (above)


HMS FURIOUS (above)

USS_West_Hosokie_1918
USS WEST HOSOKIE 1918 (above)

USS_West_Shore_1918

USS WEST SHORE 1918 (above)

HMS POLYANTHUS (above)

HMS ROCKSAND (above)

HMS UNDERWING (above)

RSS OLYMPIC (above)

SS EMPRESS OF RUSSIA (above)


HMS KILDANGAN ( above)


HMS MINNEAPOLIS (above)



HMS TENADORES (above)


SS ALLOWAY (above)



SS WEST GOTOMSKA (above)



SS MAURETANIA (above)

SS  WEST APAUM (above)

SS WEST MAHOMET (above)

USS K-5 SUBMARINE (above)

Transport_ship_S_S_Ulimaroa__(2)

TRANSPORT SHIP SS ULIMAROA (above)

Passenger_ship_Zealandia

PASSENGER SHIP ZEALANDIA (above)


First_Aero_Squadron_(2)

FIRST AERO SQUADRON (above)

USS LEVIATHAN (above) and (below) - pair of Trench Art shellcases,
engraved with "USS LEVIATHAN 1919"


USS_LEVIATHAN_shellcase_3

USS NEBRASKA (above)

The_Tofua

THE TOFUA (above)

USS ORIZABA (above)

USS SHAWMUT (above)

USS WILHELMINA (above)

Troop_carrier_SARDINIA_(2)

TROOP CARRIER SARDINIA (above)

The_Jan_Beydell_1919

THE JAN BEYDELL 1919 (above)

dazzle2_(2)

USS LIANGA (above) 

DSCN1698a
Merchant ships  (above and below)
Dazzle_Merchant__Ship

Merchant_Ship


Culture_Nova

THE CULTURE NOVA  (above)



M CLASS SUBMARINE (1917/1918) (above)

2017_Postcard_4_(2)

 2018 UK Royal Mail Stamp featuring a Dry Dock with Dazzle Ship by E Wadsworth



 

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