Menin Gate at Midnight Fine Art Print (Small)
Will Longstaff’s “Menin Gate at Midnight” (Ghosts of Menin Gate), painted in 1927, is undoubtedly one of the best known paintings in the Australian War Memorial’s art collection. In the years following the First World War, this painting’s tribute to sacrifice, combined with its spiritualist overtones, struck exactly the right chord with many Australians who had lost family and friends in the war. The painting has been hung in the Memorial in a darkened room, under spotlights, in an environment that somewhat resembles a church, and that inspires a meditative and spiritual response.
Will Longstaff painted “Menin Gate at Midnight” after he had attended the unveiling ceremony of the Menin Gate Memorial, at the entrance to the Belgian town of Ypres on the 24th of July, l927. This memorial lists the names of more than 54,000 men of the British and Empire Forces who died in the Ypres Salient and have no known grave – known only unto God. Longstaff was reported to have been so profoundly moved by the ceremony that during a midnight walk along the Menin Road he saw a vision of steel-helmeted spirits rising from the moonlit cornfields around him. It is said that, following his return to London, he painted the work in one session, while still under psychic influence. Another account suggests that Longstaff was influenced by Mrs. Mary Horsburgh, who had worked in a British canteen during the war, and who told him when he met her during his evening walk that she could “feel her dead boys” all around her.
The scene is painted almost entirely in hues of blue, which helps to suggest a midnight scene. It is constructed on a simple, traditional, land-sky format: the pale memorial is placed boldly on the horizon, and before it marches a host of ghostly soldiers, portrayed by an impressionistic outline of bodies and helmets. In the immediate foreground the cornfield is strewn with blood-red poppies. In the far distance, a small, silhouetted building with windows ablaze adds a dramatic contrast to the still monument of the Menin Gate.
The painting at first sight can appear simply as a building surrounded by dark skies, but its attraction and beauty however is in the detail. Some people may see and respond to one motif, others to another. This, in its way, contributes to the wide appeal of the painting; it is many things to many people.