Many artists have fought in wars, and renowned painters have recorded heroic scenes of great battles, but those works were usually done long after the battles were waged. Artists have also been commissioned to visit, briefly, war-torn areas and make notes of the devastation and horror. Yet few artists who were members of any armed services have drawn or painted daily while they fought alongside their comrades.
Edward Reep, as an official combat artist in World War II, painted and sketched while the battles of the Italian campaign raged around him. He was shelled, mortared, and strafed. At Monte Cassino, the earth trembled as he attempted to paint the historic bombing of that magnificent abbey. Later, racing into Milan with armed partisans on the fenders of his Jeep, he saw the bodies of Mussolini and his beautiful mistress cut down from the gas station where they had been hanged by their heels. That same day he witnessed at first hand the spectacle of a large German army force holed up in a high-rise office tower, waiting for the chance to surrender to the proper American brass for fear of falling into the hands of the vengeful partisans.
Reep's recollections of such desperate days are made more memorable in Combat Artist by the many painfully vivid paintings and drawings that accompany the text. Reep's battlefield drawings show us, with unrelenting honesty, the horrors and griefs—and the bitter comedy—of that war fought to end wars that only spawned more.
Edward Reep is professor of painting emeritus at East Carolina University and the author of a number of books, including The Content of Watercolor.