In 2017 Lopes travelled to the former battlefields of the Western Front in France and Belgium with 10 other Australian artists. About this experience, Lopes reflected, ‘I was particularly moved by the area of St Quentin where the Australian forces fought.’
In August 1918 Australian troops were outnumbered when they attacked five German Divisions entrenched on higher ground at Mont St Quentin. Over four days of fighting, the Australians captured 14,500 German troops, forcing them to retreat to the Hindenburg Line where they lost the war. As Lopes notes, ‘this feat by the Australian troops under Monash’s command was the greatest of the war.’
‘On visiting I found some old trench areas and abandoned parts of the battlefield’ reflects Lopes, who saw this landscape as representing a poetic paradox: on the one hand it embodies the death of 3,000 Australian soldiers, yet on the other hand it is the peaceful home of villagers going about their everyday lives in the farmlands. Lopes’ painting, which took four months to complete, depicts the old battlefield nestled in the woods, reinstating a sense of tranquillity into the tragic yet triumphant landscape.
John Robertson, one of the prize’s judges and Chairperson of the Gallipoli Art Prize, suggested that Exposed Wood, Mont St Quentin was a fitting tribute as 2018 marks the centenary of the official end of hostilities in the First World War: ‘For many of the countries involved hostilities continued, for the Greeks and Turks until 1923 and Russia until 1920, but for Australia, peace and the beginning of repatriation’.
Lopes’ painting, which garnered the $20,000 acquisitive prize funded by the Gallipoli Memorial Club, was chosen from a pool of thirty-three finalists. Highly commended was Craig Hadley’s ‘The Fox and the Night Cannon Men’, a depiction of night artillery practice at North Head, and Rodney Pople’s painting ‘Goulburn War Memorial at 3am’ an evocative representation of the famous Goulburn landmark.
The Gallipoli Art Prize invites painters to submit works reflecting upon the themes loyalty, respect, love of country, courage and comradeship as expressed in the Gallipoli Club’s ‘creed’. This year’s judging panel included Jane Watters (Director, S.H. Ervin Gallery, Sydney), Barry Pearce (former Head Curator of Australian Art, AGNSW) and John Robertson (Director, Gallipoli Memorial Club). ‘The broad range of imagery represented in the Prize demonstrates the level of inquiry by the artists into the stories and people from not just the Gallipoli campaign but from other conflicts and also from daily life experiences’ said Watters.