This exhibit tells an abbreviated history of the Marine Corps through the medium of art. Many artists represented in this National Collection are Marines who served as combat artists. Other works are produced by civilian artists and illustrators.
The Marine Corps´ informal association with art began in World War I when Colonel John W. Thomason, Jr., produced a powerful series of battlefield sketches. The foundation established by Colonel Thomason continues to define what is expected from a Marine combat artist—they must see what they paint
In 1942, the official Marine Corps Combat Art Program began under the guidance of Brigadier General Robert Denig. His mission was to keep Americans informed of their Marines´ actions overseas. Some of the Marine artists from World War II became well known American painters and sculptors of the 20th century, including Tom Lovell, John Clymer, and Harry Jackson.
The Combat Art Program was disestablished after WWII, enjoyed a short rebirth during the Korean War, and was permanently established under the guidance of Colonel Raymond Henri in 1966. Colonel Henri identified and deployed dozens of Marine and civilian artists to Southeast Asia. John Groth and Major John “Jack” Dyer led the way, and they were followed by other combat artists, such as Howard Terpning, Houston Stiff, and the Corps’ first female civilian combat artist, Trella Koczwara. Many of these artists were successful painters, illustrators, and art professors before they deployed.
Since the Vietnam War, the Marine Corps Art Collection has grown to include over 350 artists and nearly 8,000 works of fine art. Marine Corps combat artists have documented Marine experiences around the globe. All of these Marines were given the same guidance issued to each artist since 1942: “Go to war, do art.” The strength of the collection rests on the authentic and unvarnished focus these artists have on the human condition under the most trying of circumstances—war.