Archive of Original Paintings, Sketches, and Cartoons by a Talented World War II Combat Artist


Bourke J. Sweeney (1919-1997) was a New York native who had briefly attended art school before he enlisted in the Army in 1942, becoming a sergeant in the 307th Infantry Regiment, 77th Infantry Division. His urge to produce art remained strong even as his life was consumed by the demands of the war, and he began to draw his fellow soldiers—first capturing vivid scenes of life in the training camps, then the monotony of endless hours on trains and transport ships, and finally both the horrific and the humorous aspects of combat. Sweeney took part in the Battle of Guam—during which he was wounded by a Japanese hand grenade—and in the Philippines Campaign. Of the assault on Guam he later wrote: “I shall never forget those three weeks, for they were the most miserable of my life…. I was tortured a thousand deaths in that darkness, only to be re-born again at daybreak.” During the war, Sweeney’s cartoons of life in the Pacific were published in the Midpacifican (a newspaper for enlisted men in the Pacific) and occasionally reprinted in the Honolulu Advertiser. On November 11, 1944, the Midpacifican ran a short feature on their cartoonist, which described the difficulties of being both artist and soldier. “Exciting scenes occurred on all sides of Sgt. Sweeney on Guam, and he was able, despite an almost total lack of suitable materials, to catch vividly some of the action and put it down on paper.” Sweeney told them that he made hasty sketches while duty called and then refined them when he found the time. Conditions on Guam were so humid that in some cases he found his sketches reduced to a soggy mess before he had the chance to complete them. Not surprisingly, many of his cartoons make reference to the constant rain. Some of Sweeney’s work was also published during the war in The G.I. Sketch Book (Penguin, 1944) and Art in the Armed Forces, Pictured by Men in Action (Hyperion, 1944). When he returned to civilian life, Sweeny continued to publish cartoons (and clippings of some are included with this archive) and became a professional commercial artist, working as a packaging designer for Nabisco for his entire career. His combat art is now almost entirely unknown. During his Midpacifican interview, he was asked about his goals for the future. He said he wanted “to turn out just one drawing that will have an everlasting effect on the minds of those who see it. One that will show the awful thing that is called war. And in that way contribute a little to permanent peace.” The best paintings in this archive, if made available for public view, should help to achieve that goal. Brief Physical Description: The archive includes seven full-color completed paintings and drawings, some done in watercolor, some in crayon or colored pencil. There are 10 larger (ca. 12.5” x 15”) completed drawings (9 pencil, 1 pen & ink; several with captions or brief explanatory comments on the back) and 14 completed pen & ink cartoons (average size ca. 8.5” x 11”), some of which have markings on the back related to their publication. Of these, six are drawn on V-Mail letter sheets. Finally, there are 11 smaller pieces (ca. 5” x 7”), done in a variety of media (pencil, ink, watercolor), some of which are unfinished sketches. In total, 42 original works of art. A few pieces have some light soiling and a few have some chipping to the edges, but overall condition is very good. The archive also includes a binder with some of Sweeney’s published cartoons (both military and later) clipped from newspapers, a few short articles about him (including one about a mural of Christopher Columbus he painted in 1963), a few items from his Nabisco career, and copies of the two books that include his work. A link to additional photographs is available upon request.

Item #21103

Price: $7,500.00