General Officers of World War I

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John Singer Sargent, General Officers of World War I, 1920-22.

General Officers of World War I (originally entitled Some General Officers of the Great War) is an oil painting by John Singer Sargent, completed in 1922. It was commissioned by South African financier Sir Abraham Bailey, 1st Baronet to commemorate the generals who commanded British and British Empire armies in the First World War.


Sargent was initially unwilling to take on such a large project, but took the commission in January 1919 and began work in August 1920, after he completed his similarly huge painting, Gassed. He was also working on murals for the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts.

Sargent found it difficult to find a suitable composition for so many full-length portraits, and Sargent himself foresaw a "horrible failure". The resulting painting is unsatisfactory,[citation needed] with 22 men in khaki uniforms standing like pillars in a crowd in front of an anonymous brownish void, possibly an open doorway, with the bases of fluted pillars to either side. Sargent described it as "painting them all standing up in a vacuum". They look forward with blank stares, with no discernible purpose, almost as if each was unaware of the others around him.

The completed painting measures 118 × 208 inches (3.0 × 5.3 m). It was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1922.

Bailey commissioned two other commemorative portraits, Statesmen of World War I by Sir James Guthrie, and Naval Officers of World War I by Sir Arthur Stockdale Cope. Bailey paid £5,000 for each of the three paintings and donated all three to the National Portrait Gallery.


The painting depicts 22 of the approximately 1,500 brigadier-generals, major-generals, lieutenant-generals, generals, and field marshals who served in the British and Imperial armies in the First World War. All but two of the subjects reached the rank of at least lieutenant-general, and most were commanders of armies or army corps. The only two divisional commanders are Major-General Lukin and Major-General Russell.

From left to right, they are:

The generals are mostly British, but some representatives from the British Empire are also included: Field Marshal Smuts, General Botha and Major-General Lukin from South Africa, Generals Currie and Dobell from Canada, General Monash from Australia, and Major-General Russell from New Zealand.

A list of potential subjects was compiled by Evan Charteris and Lewis Vernon Harcourt, 1st Viscount Harcourt and approved by Bailey. Some were deliberately omitted (for example, General Ian Hamilton was blamed for the failure at Gallipoli and left out). Others prominent army commanders to be left out include Horace Smith-Dorrien, Hubert Gough, Charles Monro, Richard Haking, William Peyton, Charles Kavanagh, John Nixon, Percy Lake, and Charles Townshend; administrative officers such as Stanley Brenton von Donop, William Furse, Nevil Macready, George Macdonogh, Ronald Charles Maxwell and Travers Clarke, several Chiefs of the Imperial General Staff - Charles W. H. Douglas, James Wolfe Murray, and Archibald Murray - and army chiefs of staff, such as Tim Harington, Archibald Montgomery-Massingberd, Launcelot Kiggell and Herbert Lawrence. There are no officers from the Royal Flying Corps, such as Hugh Trenchard, David Henderson and John Salmond, or the Tank Corps, such as Hugh Elles.