Edward Wadsworth

Dazzle Ships

and dazzle camouflage

a selection of images

Dazzle-ships in Drydock at Liverpool, 1919
National Gallery of Canada, Ottowa



Edward Wadsworth


--  Dazzle camouflage was a paint scheme used on ships extensively during World War I and to a  lesser extent in World War II. It consisted of a complex pattern of geometric shapes in contrasting colours, interrupting and intersecting each other.

--  The idea was to disrupt the visual rangefinders used for naval artillery. Its  purpose was confusion rather than concealment.

-- Unlike some other forms of camouflage, dazzle works not by offering concealment but by making it difficult to estimate a target's range, speed and heading. Norman Wilkinson explained  in 1919 that dazzle was intended more to mislead the enemy as to the correct position to take up than actually to miss his shot when firing.

-- The vorticist artist Edward Wadsworth, who supervised the camouflaging of over 2,000 ships  during the First World War, also painted a series of canvases of dazzle ships after the war, based  on his wartime work.


These were made by the Dazzle Section at the Royal Academy of Arts, at Burlington House in London. Scale models were painted and used to test dazzle designs. They were placed on a rotating turntable and viewed through a periscope.

This allowed Wilkinsonís team to see how dazzle distorted a shipís form as if it were travelling in different directions. Wilkinson believed that using strong contrasts, with light and dark greys, blues and greens, was most effective.

Wilkinson appointed dock officers at ports around Britain. They supervised the painting of ships from the finished designs.
One dock officer was the artist Edward Wadsworth. He was a founder of Vorticism - a British art movement that grew out of Cubism.



Left:  Dazzle Ships images from The Imperial War Museum, Right:  Edward Wadsworth painting a dazzle ship.

The Imperial War Museum also has a large online collection of model dazzle ship designs

Below: a selection of art prints by Edward Wadsworth

Minesweepers in port ; Other titles: Tugs and bridge - Liverpool
woodcut, 1918, Dimensions  5.0 x 13.5 cm image; 8.5 x 22.6 cm sheet

S.S. Jerseymoor, C.130; G. W/D33, woodcut 1918 christies.com

Selection of prints by Edward Wadsworth

Dazzled Ship in Dry Dock (1918) Litho 12.7 x 21.6 cm
© Leeds Museums and Galleries (City Art Gallery) U.K.

The Mauretania design was by Norman Wilkinson.




Dazzle ship designs and a design in action

Below:  Painting a ship and working with models

The Dazzle Ship in culture - bathing suits and souvenirs


A dazzle plane from  http://www.warbirdinformationexchange.org

Flashpoint Magazine: a Journal of the Arts and Politics - Issue #17