WWII Trench Art: Topless Mermaid Reads Over Soldier’s Shoulder

One of my goals in studying the metafeminine is finding examples of it across all times and situations. And I am very excited about one of my acquisitions; an example of the metafeminine in Trench Art.

WWII Trench Art, circa 1943. Original artist and photographer unknown.

Trench Art, as defined by Wikipedia, “is any decorative item made by soldiers, prisoners of war or civilians, where the manufacture is directly linked to armed conflict or its consequences.” I do believe the image in this photo, now in my collection, counts.

The depicted art (painted on a wall above a table and between an adjoining wall and a doorway with a light switch) is of a topless mermaid looking over the shoulder of a U.S. soldier who is reading an Esquire magazine. I love that the mermaid also has (what I believe to be) a military nurse’s hat, either as a joke (as sirens kill men, not save them) or the image was started with one scene in mind and things took a fantasy bent near the end.

I think it is a great piece. The mermaid is certainly sexy…anyone would find it difficult to resist her embrace. The artwork is shaded with care, the detail is magnificent (look at all those scales!), and it perfectly captures the pin-up style of the time (which could also be found on many of the era’s military aircraft). And, in case you missed it, take a look at the gentleman on the Esquire magazine’s cover – he seems to be staring bug-eyed at the very fetching mermaid’s tail!

According to the previous owner, the art is by American sailors (specific artist unknown) who drew on the walls at the Santa Cruz Airship facility in Brazil during World War II.  The original photograph itself is dated circa 1943. Like the artist, the photographer is also unknown.

I’ve been eager to post up a scan of this photo for a while. Primarily this has been to show that the bravest men (and/or women) of the “Greatest Generation” were more than happy to paint and display a mermaid during their time abroad, and one that even today we couldn’t get away with showing on network television!

But it is also a great anchor point for another post I’ll be putting up later this week. The point of this being that tastes and art are always changing. That all forms of media evolve, and it is important to let them – and encourage them! If members of a generation that many think of as straight-laced and chaste can go and draw topless mermaids while on military duty, it makes me wonder why, in the modern-day and in private enterprise, we seem to be slipping further and further backwards regarding what is acceptable in art.

And that, frankly, is not acceptable.

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