Omar N. Bradley Memorial Art Gallery: An American in Paris: War, Soldier Morale, and the YMCA


Bernecourt, Meurthe-et-Moselle, France, circa 1919.

The current exhibit in the General Omar N. Bradley Memorial Art Gallery features the artwork of Milton Herbert Bancroft, depicting locations in France where U.S. Soldiers fought during World War I. Bancroft's works are supplemented with Army Signal Corps photos, from the USAHEC collection, showing Soldiers in France during and after the War.

Born on January 1, 1866 in Newton, Massachusetts, Milton Herbert Bancroft was an accomplished American artist and illustrator. He received his formal education from the Massachusetts Normal Art School in Boston, and then traveled abroad to complete his training at the renowned Académie Julian in Paris. Bancroft lived and worked during a time of dynamic change in the United States and in the arts, brought about in part by urbanization, technological advances, immigration, and the events of World War I and its aftermath.

By 1916, the United States was preparing for possible entry into the war in Europe, and as a result, poster campaigns were started to promote preparedness to support the war. Bancroft, wanting to personally be involved with the war effort, used his artistic ability to design posters promoting the YMCA's support of the troops during World War I. In addition, he applied for an assignment overseas early in 1917, as a camouflage painter (artist embedded with the troops), but his age disqualified him. He was recruited by the YMCA to serve as one of the chiefs of decoration who oversaw the designing of Soldier relief "huts," and in 1918, Bancroft found himself directing this work for the French and American Soldiers in France. His artistic work took him from supply ports to Paris to the frontline sectors of St. Quentin, Chateau-Thierry, Reims, Verdun, and to the Argonne

In 1920, after the war ended, Bancroft retired to the family farm in Maryland with his wife and children, where he painted landscapes and lived a peaceful, family life, until his death in 1947.