Having painted a number of still life pastels featuring brass objects, I was looking for something made of copper when I came upon an old army bugle in a brocante in France. It is not in fact French, but bears the badge of the Argyll and Sutherland regiment.
I intended to paint it on its own, with perhaps a tasselled cord wrapped around it like it might originally have worn. But I didn't have one, so I put it in a wooden box (a wine case), put an antique brass candlestick beside it, stuck in a candle, and hung an old watch from the bugle. I was going to call the piece Reveille. The image shows the main features roughed in. Around the time I was painting this Poppy Day happened, so I bought one and painted it in to add a note of colour in an otherwise ochre work.
The addition of the poppy got me thinking about the First World War, since its centenary is this year. The time on the watch is barely legible, but it might be 5.30; and the painting has progressed, apart from the base of the candleholder. (The colour of the background has not changed, it is a result of the lighting conditions when I took the photo).
I developed this idea further, and extinguished the candle, leaving a little smoke behind. This could be read simply as the candle having been blown out by the bugler as he rose to blow reveille.
I finished the piece like this; got it framed; but asked the framer not to seal the frame as I was not satisfied - something was lacking. I eventually decided that the candle and the box were too discrete, and thought I might link them. World War I was still in my head, and I began to think that the candle was a symbol for the lights going out all over Europe; and the wooden box could be read as a more sombre receptacle. A book seemed right as a link, both because of its shape and size - it would fit the space; and because the title of the work could assume the title of the book. Erich Maria Remarque's classic title won out over Edmund Blunden's Overtones of War; or Robert Grave's Goodbye to All That. I used an old book spine in my library, but searched online for an illustration of an old copy of All Quiet on the Western Front. Putnam's edition suited perfectly; although I altered the binding to fit the colour scheme of the painting, I used the font on the cover to maintain the historical verisimilitude. This is the result.
“All Quiet…” © Niall O’Neill