Outpost Raid: Champagne Sector
During World War I, Horace Pippin served in the well-known and respected Fifteenth Regiment of the New York National Guard, an all-black infantry unit. The regiment served under French command because of the U.S. Army’s concern over integration. Spending more time abroad than any other infantry, its members exhibited enough heroics during the war to be nicknamed the “Hell Fighters” by the Germans. Pippin was wounded and sent home after serving one year. Ten years later, he started painting scenes of his memories of the war, although his right arm had to be supported by his left hand whenever he worked at his easel. Outpost Raid: Champagne Sector is an early painting, executed only three years after the artist started to explore paint. The subdued palette of grays, browns, and black is typical of the artist. It is as if the entire confrontation occurs in shadows. Two men are standing in a trench. An American soldier enters from the left; judging by his French helmet, gear, and weapons, he is probably a member of Pippin’s regiment. On the right, a German soldier in a pale blue uniform and beret stands beside a sentry box. The scorn on the face of this soldier is the only emotion apparent in the painting, and it creates a vast distance between the two men. Silhouetted and hiding behind a bed of sandbags in the center of the composition are more American soldiers. While Pippin’s war paintings—his first subject matter—document a particular moment in global history, they also subtly address the issues of race and injustice in American life.
Valérie Rousseau, “Outpost Raid: Champagne Sector,” exhibition label for Self-Taught Genius: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum. Stacy C. Hollander and Valérie Rousseau, curators. New York: American Folk Art Museum, 2014.