John Singer Sargent was commissioned by the British War Memorials Committee to paint a work for the Hall of Remembrance. Sargent visited a casualty clearing station at Le Bac-de-Sud in France, which provided the inspiration for this vast work (7x20 feet) painted in 1918.

Mustard gas (yperite, or bis(2-chloroethyl)sulfide) causes terrible pain by blistering skin and mucous membranes, by blinding and choking its victims. Used during World War I, it caused intense suffering; dying could take weeks. In the painting, soldiers who were blinded by mustard gas, are being led to a dressing tent. The foreground of the painting has a jumble of bodies, soldiers in various poses lying on the ground. The colors are muted, the soldiers appear subdued. These elements, combined with the huge size, make the painting reminiscent of ancient Greek or Roman sculptural friezes.


Known mostly for portraits and landscapes, Sargent combines his mastery of portraiture and expertise in composition to create this monumental, important work. As with images associated with the tragedies of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center (September 11, 2001), Gassed demonstrates that images of the aftermath of a catastrophe are potent and lasting. Study of this powerful, haunting painting could be combined with reading Wilfred Owen’s WWI poem, Dulce et Decorum Est, an antiwar poem about chemical and trench warfare (see this database).


Painted 1918. Sargent was born in Italy, the son of expatriate Americans, and lived mostly in U.K. and U.S.

Primary Source

Imperial War Museum, London