The Murder of Edith Cavell

George Bellows (1882-1925), The Murder of Edith Cavell, 1918. Black chalk and black crayon over charcoal on cream wove paper. Courtesy of Princeton University Art Museum. Museum purchase, Laura P. Hall Memorial Fund

George Bellows (1882-1925), The Murder of Edith Cavell, 1918. Lithograph. Graphic Arts division. GA 2008- in process

On August 5, 1915 Edith Cavell, head of the Training School for Nurses in occupied Brussels, was arrested for assisting Belgian, British, and French soldiers to escape from the country. Two months later, she was shot by the German authorities. As news of her execution spread, with no fewer than 41 stories in The New York Times alone from October 16-30, her case became somewhat of a cause célèbre.

The American artist George Bellows included this incident in a series of 12 lithographs he produced depicting atrocities committed by the German armies in Belgium. The Graphic Arts collection is fortunate to own 7 of the 12 prints from this series, including The Murder of Edith Cavell. In 1959 the Princeton University Art Museum found and acquired Bellow’s finished, full-size drawing (53.5 x 68.5 cm.) for this print. Interestingly, only after completing the drawing and print did Bellows paint the same scene in oil. The painting now belongs to the Springfield Art Museum in Springfield, Massachusetts.

For a comparison of the work in three mediums, see the entry by Robert A. Koch “George Bellows’ Murder of Edith Cavell” in Record of the Art Museum, Princeton University 18, no.2 (1959): 46-62.

For more about the Cavell case, see Correspondence with the United States Ambassador Respecting the Execution of Miss Cavell at Brussels (London, Darling, 1915). Rare Books (Ex) 2004-1558N