Memorial Day: Two Artists, Two Images

by Christopher Blay May 31, 2021

The last Monday in May is Memorial Day. The U.S. holiday honors and mourns the death of military personnel. On this day of remembrance, I’m drawn back to thoughts of a painting by Norman Rockwell from the exhibition Norman Rockwell: American Freedom, which was at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston in December of 2019.

The painting, Blood Brothers, was originally conceived as a painting of two men, one Black, one white, killed during the unrest after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. The wall text for the MFAH exhibition tells of how the image was transformed into soldiers in Vietnam to signify “the equalizing effects of war.”

Norman Rockwell's Blood Brothers

Norman Rockwell’s “Blood Brothers.”

The image, which according to the text was a take on Edouard Manet’s The Dead Toreador, was never published. It is one of the most grim depictions of war that I have ever seen.

An equally poignant work is a painting by Georgia O’Keeffe titled The Flag, exhibited in 2017 as part of the exhibition

“The Flag” by Georgia O’Keeffe Credit...2016 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/

“The Flag” by Georgia O’Keeffe Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Milwaukee Art Museum, via New York Times

It is a somber image that bleeds away all the valor and heroism of war and depicts a dark cloud of  despair on the symbol that fades and dissolves before our eyes.

War is hell, as artists are always here to remind us.

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