The New Art Blog: Assault on Belleau Wood

After a busy (and depressing) holiday season, I’m attempting to restart the art blog idea.  This time though, I’m going to work things a little differently. Instead of just a piece of art each week, I’m going to alternate on artistic ideas.  Some weeks will still be about a certain piece, other weeks about artists or books/graphic novels, and other various art-related themes.  Hopefully people will still tune in.


For the first of the new year, I’m talking about Frank E. Schoonover’s “Assault on Belleau Wood“, also known as “How Twenty Marines Took Bouresches” (oil, early 20th century). Schoonover was one of the great illustrators of the early 20th century, a student and friend of Howard Pyle.

In this piece, Schoonover shows a battle from World War I (information on the battle can be seen at, and also showcases his wonderful abilities at realism and storytelling. There is a sense of action and tension in the art, as if we are seeing a certain moment in the story. The men all seem to be waiting for the next shot, the one that might have their name on it.

Schoonover does however give the scene almost a moment of pause to reflect on the dead at the front of the scene.  The body towards the left seems to have been there before, but the one in the foreground (right) seems to have just fallen, as indicated by the man directly above him.  Schoonover has succeeded in giving us a realistic moment of time, and includes the complexity that a real moment would have.

I like the composition of this piece quite a bit, I think Schoonover really draws in the story with it.  The open area between the lines of men is almost the line between life and death. The open, lighter area gives way to the dark figure in the center, one that we assume is either hanging on or has died right as the moment happened. The composition also curves in all respects towards the left, as if saying that the men are all moving forward, regardless of what’s about to happen.

I can’t speak to the color too much unfortunately, there are several versions online and the colors are slightly different in each.  In each though (especially in this version) there seems to be a brightness to the grasses and flowers, to me saying that horror and darkness can invade anywhere.  Even in the beauty of nature, the darkness of war can come.



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Russell Dickerson

Russell Dickerson

Russell Dickerson has been a lot of things over many years. Author, artist, designer, winner of awards and recognition, pursuer of the truth, leader of the earth after armageddon.

  • The versions I have seen of this painting are very rich in color and reminiscent of Pyle’s illustrations. It has wide contrasts in the light and dark and the action of the Marines advancing through almost palpable fire takes place among vibrantly green new wheat and small red flowers. It is an exciting and sobering composition that effectively communicates the beauty and tragedy of that June day.

  • admin

    It certainly seemed like this was a good color approximation, but I do run into that quite a bit. I agree completely, that, amongst the beauty of nature, the horror of war has come.

    Thanks for the comment, and for checking it out!