What is Dazzle?
‘Dazzle’ is a style of ship camouflage characterised by brilliant, glaring geometric patterns. Widely used in the First World War and into the Second, ‘dazzle’ does not strive to make a ship invisible to its enemies, but rather to confuse their attempts to sink it by making it difficult to accurately gauge the distance, direction and speed at which it is travelling.
‘Dazzle’ was developed by the British marine artist Norman Wilkinson to counter the threat posed by German U-Boats. He employed techniques that resembled those of avant-garde British painters such as Wyndham Lewis and David Bomberg. Artist Edward Wadsworth, who supervised the application of ‘dazzle’ patterning to over 2,000 ships, later made a series of paintings on the subject.
The close relationship of ‘dazzle’ technology to British art extended right through its manufacture. Each British pattern was unique, and many of the designs were invented by women from the Royal Academy of Arts in London. These were then tested on wooden models, viewed through a periscope in a studio to assess how they would work at sea. Though the practice has largely (but not entirely) fallen out of fashion in the military, ‘dazzle’ remains a source of inspiration to artists today.