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Frederic Villiers

A war-artist at the front

A portrait of Mr. Frederic Villiers, the prolific ILN war artist, after a visit to the trenches.

Frederic Villiers was of the old school of war correspondents.  Born in 1852 and educated in France, he studied art at the British Museum and South Kensington Schools.

He began his career as a war artist for The Graphic in Serbia in 1876 and from then on covered almost every military conflict around the world, witnessing campaigns in Turkey, Egypt, Sudan, Japan, Greece, South Africa and many more countries. He marched with Lord Kitchener to Khartoum, was present with the besieging army at Port Arthur and covered the Balkan War of 1912-13.

He is most commonly associated with The Illustrated London News for whom he did his best work, having an innate sense of what would interest readers. Though not the most accomplished of draughtsmen, his tenacious journalistic streak made him one of the finest war artists of the age. In 1914, the intrepid spirit of the 62-year-old Villiers saw him in the thick of the action on the Western Front.

He joined the French armies, was there at the Retreat from Mons and witnessed action at Ypres, Neuve Chapelle, La Boiselle, the Aisne and Verdun. In crediting his pictures, the ILN described him as “Our Special Artist in the Western Theatre of War”.  By 1917, he left the British and French armies to carry out a lecture tour and visit other fronts.

He wrote a lively account of his experiences as a war artist in the enticingly titled, Villiers: His Five Decades of Adventure and had, according to his Times obituary, “the air of the swashbuckler which was at one time considered the correct comportment for the soldier of the pen”.