Powerful World War I Painting ‘Gassed’ to Debut New Gallery at National World War I Museum

"Gassed" by John Singer Sargent. (Image courtesy World War I Museum and Memorial)

By Kevin Collison

“Gassed,” one of the most powerful works of art depicting the horrors of World War I or any  war, will be the centerpiece of the new Wylie Gallery debut at the National World War I Museum and Memorial.

The 21-foot long by nine-feet tall painting by renowned artist John Singer Sargent shows British soldiers blinded during a mustard gas attack leading one another from the battlefield to a field hospital.

It will be on loan from the Imperial War Museum in London from Feb. 23 to June 3.

Wylie Gallery entrance

Museum officials say its a dramatic introduction to their new 5,000 square-foot gallery that will be used to display exhibits and artwork from sources throughout the world.

“The significance of this painting cannot be understated,” Matthew Naylor, president and CEO of the National World War I Museum said in a statement. “‘Gassed’ is one of the most important works of art from one of the preeminent artists of the past two centuries.”

“‘Gassed’ is a national treasure in the United Kingdom and bringing this magnificent painting to the National World War I Museum and Memorial stands as one of the most important achievements in our history.”

Sir Winston Churchill described the painting as “brilliant genius” at his first viewing.

This is only the second time the monumental painting has been in the United States since Sargent completed it in 1919. It was last seen in Boston and Washington D.C. about 20 years ago.

Downtown Kansas City will be the final stop on a current U.S. tour that began last year and included Philadelphia, New York and Nashville.

The opportunity for painting to come here was prompted by a renovation project in the space at the Imperial War Museum where ‘Gassed’ is located, said Mike Vietti, director of marketing and communications at the National World War I Museum.

“Our museum has had a long relationship with the Imperial War Museum, the director is a member of one of our advisory boards,” Vietti said.

The exhibition will include displays on chemical warfare. This photo shows gas masks tested by U.S. troops in World War I (Image courtesy World War I Museum and Memorial)

The timing turned out to be excellent for the downtown Kansas City museum. The new Wylie Gallery was designed specifically to accommodate large traveling exhibits.

“The gallery is a significant addition to the museum,” Vietti said. “It was built with modern considerations in mind including a vaulted ceiling and large entry. It allows work of art like the Sargent.

“The concept is to use the Wylie to bring in special exhibitions from across the world. Most of our other exhibits have been curated by our team from our collection.”

The painting and crate weigh 2,000 pounds and will require a crew of 10- to 15 people to remove it from the truck.

In addition to “Gassed,” the exhibit will include original maps showing the location of the dressing station where Sargent witnessed the scene and a display on chemical warfare, from World War I to modern times.

Visitors to the museum will pay an additional $3 on top of the regular admission charge to visit the Wylie Gallery. People who only want to visit the gallery will be charged $10, although there will be group discounts.

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