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Lawrence Beall Smith, The Man without a Gun, oil on canvas, 1944 (U.S. Army Art Collection)

The Man without a Gun

Combat Art

One of the most powerful pieces of combat art ever produced, Lawrence Beall Smith's 1944 painting The Man without a Gun is a stirring portrayal of a medic in Normandy. As an Artist War Correspondent for Abbott Laboratories, Smith was responsible for documenting the Medical Corps in the European theatre. Smith was initially assigned to England to gather material for paintings on medical activities at air bases. Though he was scheduled to finish his tour prior to the invasion, Smith volunteered to stay and participate, writing that "there is a war on and I figure this is my part in it. I repeat that I shall be quite disappointed if I don't get a crack at Invasion material." 1

Smith described his Normandy experience as "so vast that it almost staggered you to know where to begin." Eventually deciding to focus on subject matter that was characteristic of the experience as well as visually striking, Smith chose a typical aid man for the subject of this painting. He was particularly impressed with these men, describing them as "an extremely heroic lot…All were haggard, and very tired. They seemed like young old men; they had a kind of haunted look." 2

The young man in this painting looks forlornly at the viewer. Dead on his feet, his clothing ragged and his face haggard, he gazes in the viewer's general direction, too tired to see what is in front of him and too haunted by what he has seen to close his eyes. Smith described him as being the "paradox of war, for his mission is to save life, not to destroy it." 3 This irony is shown in the painting through the use of the color red, which appears only on the blood-soaked bandages and on the red cross intended to protect him from enemy fire. His exhaustion is further highlighted by his placement next to the 'Salvage Pile' of discarded shoes and gear of the soldiers he was unable to save. The title The Man Without a Gun draws the viewer's attention to the subject's noncombatant status, naming him as an unsung hero who risked enemy fire to save others without regard to his own safety or personal protection.

Upon completion, all art produced as part of the Abbott Laboratories Medical series became property of the Department of Defense. Along with the rest of the art related to the Army Medical Corps, this piece is part of the Army Art Collection, which is preserved at the Army's Museum Support Center at Fort Belvoir, VA.

  1. Lawrence Beall Smith letter to Reeves. May 24th, 1944. Army Art Collection files.
  2. Mackenzie, DeWitt, ed. Men Without Guns (Philadelphia: Blackiston, 1945), p. 33-37.
  3. Lawrence Beall Smith, exhibit label for 1945 exhibit. Army Art Collection files.