Diameter: 120.000 mm
Gift of Mr M. Frankenhuis
Room 48: Europe 1900 to now
Cast bronze medal of shipbuilding in Germany, by Ludwig Gies
Berlin, around AD 1919
Man and machine – an unhappy alliance
This one-sided medal by Ludwig Gies (1887-1966), a German medallist and sculptor, gives us a sense of the views of many artists about the effects of technology on human 'progress' at the end of the First World War. (1914-18). The smooth vertical line of the ship's prow contrasts strongly with the rough figures of workers and scaffolding surrounding the structure, and the tired group of shipbuilders across the foreground. Gies shows the frailty and anonymity of people in comparison with the modern ship, at the end of a period when machines had contributed to the deaths of millions. Before the War, the British and Germans constructed massive battleships, known as 'Dreadnoughts', escalating the tension between the two powers. In this medal, the artist is trying to portray the dehumanizing power of such creations.
Gies explored a number of other subjects that dealt with human suffering in war, such as a medal of the Lusitania (1915) and of a skeleton dancing among soldiers (Dance of Death, 1917), influenced by his military experiences. Although he produced other pieces as propaganda for the German war effort, he was considered a 'degenerate artist' by the Nazi regime and dismissed from his teaching post.
M. Jones, The art of the medal (London, The British Museum Press, 1979)