1922 in pictures: nationalists, navies, mountains and modernism

Four years after the end of the First World War, the social and economic aftermath of the conflict continued to influence politics, art and ideas of nation. Here, Richard Overy introduces events of 1922 that reflected the war’s legacy... This article first appeared in issue 7 of BBC World Histories.

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Dog owners in Berlin queue to have their pets put down, no longer able to feed them as Germany’s economic problems mount up. (AKG-Images)

The ‘Great War’ may have ended in 1918, but the political and social crisis it engendered endured long after the fighting finished on the western front.

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By 1922, the shape of the postwar order had became clearer. Bolshevik victory in the Russian civil war allowed Lenin’s regime to consolidate its position, and in December the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was established. A few months earlier, a young Josef Stalin was appointed general secretary of the Communist Party Central Committee, foreshadowing one of the most repressive dictatorships of the century. New beginnings were also evident in Italy, where Fascist leader Benito Mussolini pressured King Victor Emmanuel III to make him prime minister, paving the way for the establishment of another brutal dictatorship.

In the Middle East, the rebuilt Turkish army of Mustafa Kemal (later Atatürk) routed the Greek forces of occupation in western Anatolia, seizing the port of Smyrna (İzmir) amid scenes of atrocity and destruction.

The British empire faced its first major rift with the enaction of the Anglo-Irish Treaty that gave Ireland (minus Ulster) independence as a British dominion – the Irish Free State, established on 6 December. Meanwhile in India, Mahatma Gandhi led the nationalist movement that was to grow over the 1920s into a major threat to the survival of the British Raj. In 1922, he was arrested, charged with sedition and sentenced to six years in jail.

Perhaps fuelled by the social fallout from the war, artists and writers revelled in the avant-garde. James Joyce wrote Ulysses, the American poet TS Eliot published The Waste Land, and abstract and expressionist painters and sculptors turned the art world upside-down. Just as the war had destabilised the established political order, so old-time culture was overturned in favour of bizarre, challenging, disturbing and innovative modernism.

Independence women

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Picture credit: Getty.

Indian women – several of them accompanied by their children – gather at the convention of the Indian National Congress party held in Bombay (now Mumbai) in January 1922. Many women were enthusiastic supporters of Mahatma Gandhi’s call for non-violent confrontation with British imperial powers in the struggle for Indian self-government. The role women played in Indian politics at that time was much greater than that of their counterparts in much of the western world.

Shaping the future of art

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Picture credit: Bridgeman.

Russian artist Vasily Kandinsky (1866–1944) painted this untitled abstract work in the same year he took up a post at the renowned Bauhaus art and design school in Weimar, Germany. Kandinsky had begun to experiment with complete abstract art before the First World War, and by the 1920s had become one of the most important influences on a whole generation of young European artists who were keen to challenge established artistic conventions. He developed innovative theories linking colours with sounds, and his legacy endures to the present day.

Gamine set, matched

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Picture credit: Bridgeman.

French tennis star Suzanne Lenglen (right) poses with British opponent Kitty Godfree at the Championships in Wimbledon, London, in July 1922. Lenglen, dubbed ‘La divine’ by the French press, triumphed in the women’s singles final – one of 31 career championships. Her outfits, many of which exposed her arms and legs, shocked British crowds in an era when other women players were still almost entirely covered up.

Canine catastrophe

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Picture credit: AKG-Images.

Dog owners in Berlin queue to have their pets put down, no longer able to feed them as Germany’s economic problems mount up; interwar dog tax increases amplified these issues. Defeat in the First World War had left Germany with a huge war debt exacerbated by demands for reparations from the Allies. The onset of currency hyperinflation, which accelerated from mid 1922, left millions of impoverished Germans short of food, and pets became a luxury many could no longer afford. The next year, Germany’s currency collapsed completely.

Lofty ambitions

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Picture credit: Getty.

Tents at Camp IV, 7,000 metres up on Mt Everest, are dwarfed by snow-decked ridges in this 1922 photograph. That year’s British expedition was the first attempt to summit the world’s highest peak. Though the men set a record for the highest point climbed (8,326 metres), three summit attempts failed – the last curtailed by the deaths of seven porters in an avalanche – and the expedition was abandoned. One expedition member, George Mallory, died during another attempt two years later; it’s not known if he completed the ascent.

A portrait of the artist

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Picture credit: The J. Paul Getty Museum.

Irish author James Joyce (1882–1941) is pictured in 1922, the year he published his modernist masterpiece Ulysses in Paris in a first edition of 1,000 copies. The novel pushed the limits of contemporary writing with its unconventional subject matter and use of language. It was banned from sale in Britain and the United States on the grounds of obscenity, but quickly became a benchmark for literary modernism.

Welcome to the modernist world

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Picture credit: theatromunicipal.org.br.

A poster advertises the Semana de Arte Moderna (Week of Modern Art) in São Paulo, Brazil, in February 1922. The week’s events, organised by Brazil’s pioneering modernists, included art exhibitions, poetry readings and debates on the future of art. Though the week helped to launch modernism in Brazil, it also attracted a great deal of hostility from both the conventional art establishment and the public, exposed for the first time to experimental culture.

Runway success

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Picture credit: Public domain/Wiki.

The Imperial Japanese Navy’s vessel Hōshō, the world’s first purpose-built aircraft carrier, which was commissioned in December 1922. The size of Japan’s navy was limited by the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922. To compensate, it employed aircraft carriers and naval aircraft to increase its fleet’s strike power. The strategy proved highly effective 19 years later when Japanese carrier aircraft destroyed part of the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor.

A black day for Italy

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Picture credit: AKG-Images.

A propaganda postcard issued by the Italian Fascist Party calls on camicie nere (‘Blackshirt’) militia to join its march on Rome in October 1922. Party leader Benito Mussolini aimed to exploit the social and political crisis that engulfed postwar Italy, deploying his Blackshirts in an attempt to intimidate the king into granting him power. His plan worked. Some 25,000 Blackshirts converged on Rome and, though Mussolini’s party held only 35 seats in the parliamentary assembly, at the end of October the king asked him to become prime minister.

Female firepower

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Picture credit: Getty.

Turkish women manufacture gun cartridges in 1922 for troops led by Mustafa Kemal (later Atatürk) during the Turkish War of Independence. At the end of the First World War, the victorious Allies had planned to carve up the Ottoman empire, granting Greece a slice of western Anatolia. Kemal organised a Turkish army that, in a campaign marked by violent atrocities, drove the Greeks from Anatolia in 1922. Though the women shown here cover their hair with typical Muslim attire, after Atatürk’s victory he sought to modernise and westernise his country, creating a new secular nation-state – the Republic of Turkey, established in 1923.

Grave expectations

Picture credit: AKG-Images.

British archaeologist Howard Carter opens the second chamber of the tomb of Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun (c1341–c1323 BC) in 1922. Inside the tomb, in the Valley of the Kings near Luxor (ancient Thebes), lay the ornate sarcophagus of the young king, surrounded by a wealth of richly ornamented grave goods. After the seven-year search for the tomb proved successful, Carter’s discovery became a sensation, reviving popular western interest in ancient Egypt.

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Richard Overy is professor of history at the University of Exeter, and editor of The Times Complete History of the World (William Collins, 2015)