Throughout the war, messenger pigeons played a vital role in communications. It is estimated over 100,000 served with the British Forces, their speed and endurance saving countless lives. Pigeons were kept in mobile lofts behind the front line, then taken to the trenches in wicker baskets when needed.
Fred Leist depicts a horse-drawn loft, set within the desolate landscape of the Western Front, with drifts of snow and bare tree trunks highlighting the harsh conditions. The broad strokes of white paint that swathe the foreground accentuate the silhouetted figures of the pigeon handler and the courier about to embark on his motorbike. The delicate, rose-tinted sky and relative stillness of the scene conveys a sense of calm, despite the looming danger of their mission.
Place where the work was made
oil on canvas
63.4 x 76.2 cm stretcher; 82.7 x 95.0 x 5.0 cm frame
Signature & date
Signed and dated l.r. corner, brown oil "LEIST ... 17".
Not on display
Where the work was made
Shown in 2 exhibitions
150 years of Australian art (1938), National Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 27 Jan 1938–25 Apr 1938
Mad through the darkness: Australian artists and the Great War, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 25 Apr 2015–11 Oct 2015
Referenced in 2 publications
Lionel Lindsay, 150 years of Australian art, Sydney, 1938. cat.no. 204 [Gallery No. 3]
Richard Travers, To paint a war: The lives of the Australian artists who painted the Great War, 1914-1918, Port Melbourne, 2017, 122 (colour illus.).