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Retired doctor seeking descendants of artist's portrait sitters

31st March 2017

The pastel drawings of Eugene Burnand, which feature allied soldiers and nurses from World War One have inspired a retired doctor to hunt down the subjects' descendants, reports BBC News. Doug Jenkinson discovered the Swiss artist while looking into his family history and is now hoping to meet the families of those featured.

Burnand created the images between 1917 and 1921, with the series featuring people from more than 40 different countries. All of the sitters were found in just three French cities during the war and range from officers to stretcher bearers.

His wife helped him to find volunteers to sit for the portraits by talking to people who were in uniform on the Paris Metro. The process was incredibly intimate, with Burnand sitting knee-to-knee with those he was drawing in a room at his home.

As he was relatively well-known at the time, Burnand was granted access to barracks by the French military. Here he would approach those who were resting after being on the frontline or recuperating following injury.

According to Burnand's great-granddaughter, Francoise Witheridge, the portraits were designed to recognise the sacrifices that those in the military were making, as well as those from so many different countries.

"There were people coming from completely different countries to save France. I think that is what is most moving," she told the news provider.

"You see the portrait of the Sikh, the man from Baluchistan, the New Zealander, the Fijian.

"Really it was his way of wanting to remember them all and thank them and the way he drew them was knee-to-knee and he must really have looked at them and talked to them and understood them."

Currently, the portraits can be found in the Museum of the Legion of Honour, with each one showing a tremendous amount of detail and captivating those who see them.

Dr Jenkinson has also uploaded the portraits created by Burnand to a website to see if people come forward. One person, the great-great-granddaughter of French Alpine infantryman Fernand Ruan, sent Dr Jenkinson a photograph after seeing the portrait of him on the site.

Burnand died in 1922 and after this, books featuring prints of his portraits were produced in a limited number. Several of these original prints have been put on display by Christopher Barnett, the headmaster of Whitgift School in Croydon. These have been shown in France and Switzerland but not the UK.

He also found an original print, which is thought to have been included in just 12 of the first edition books, which is not included in the Museum of the Legion of Honour's collection.

Dr Jenkinson is now hoping that more people will come forward to share the story of those in the portraits.

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