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'A War of the Imagination':
The Experience of British Artists in Two World Wars
A version of this paper first appeared as a chapter in Lightning Strikes Twice, edited by Peter Liddle, published by Leo Cooper, London, 2001

    What did it look like ? They will ask in 1981, and no amount of description or documentation will answer them. Nor will big, formal compositions like the battle pictures which hang in palaces ; and even photographs, which tell us so much, will leave out the colour and the peculiar feeling of events in these extraordinary years. Only the artist with his heightened powers of perception can recognise which elements in a scene can be pickled for posterity in the magical essence of style. And as new subjects began to saturate his imagination, they create a new style, so that from the destruction of war something of lasting value emerges.(1)

Fundamentally, little changed in the circumstances of British artists during the First and Second World Wars. In both wars the art market shrivelled, prices tumbled, artists' materials - such as fine papers, canvas and pigments - became scarce and expensive. Adventurous and exploratory art forms gave way to rather chastened, reflective work that espoused home virtues and patriotic loyalties. The government-funded schemes for commissioning official images of wartime were, as we shall see, remarkably similar during both wars; many good artists were commissioned; many others who thought themselves eminently employable were to be disappointed, others had their skills redeployed into field camouflage, survey and cartography.

Both wars were preceded by frenetic intellectual and artistic activity generated by the modern movement. In the years before the Great War many young British artists were trying to assimilate the new ideas of Cubism and Futurism emanating from Paris and Italy. The period before World War Two was comparatively calmer, but British art was enjoying a neo-Romantic revival and slowly coming to terms with the challenge of continental surrealism and pure abstraction. Of course, during both periods of war, only a small core of artists were involved in the debates generated by the avant-garde. For many others, their interests were best represented by one of the long-established academies of art that existed in London and in the regions, and during both world wars the students, graduates and staff of these academies would become the artists, advisors and advocates of the official war art schemes.

Before we examine the key themes that lie behind this century's war art, let us look briefly at two very different artists - Muirhead Bone and CRW Nevinson - who experienced both world wars and left very different records of their involvement. The Scottish etcher Muirhead Bone was 40 years old when he became the first ever official British war artist in 1916. One year later Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson, a 27 year old Modernist painter prone to staging noisy and well-publicised Futurist events was also appointed. Despite the assertion in his autobiography that his appointment was initiated by a string of generals, Nevinson's chief admirer was in fact Muirhead Bone.
(2) Nevinson did, though, have formidable front-line credentials having already served in France as an ambulance driver with the Belgian Red Cross.

To many observers, Muirhead Bone was a sound, if somewhat predictable, choice as an official war artist. Revered as the 'London Piranesi', he had a reputation for highly detailed and accurate renditions of complex subjects. These ranged from the architectural minutiae of a shipyard or munitions hall, to the uniforms and insignia of groups of soldiers. Although dismissed infamously by one critic as 'too true to be good' (3) Bone was a proficient and prolific worker; during one seven week visit to the Somme battlefield in late summer 1916 he made 150 finished drawings. By 1917 he had produced five hundred highly detailed images for the government - an effort that drove him to near-collapse. There was, though, an insatiable demand for his work. It reproduced well in black and white, and was widely distributed in print portfolios, booklets and pamphlets aimed at neutral countries such as the United States. Bone travelled behind the front-lines in a chauffeur-driven car, stopping occasionally to render the scenery of war. By his own admission he recognised that modern war was an elusive and remote activity:
    'I'm afraid that I have not done many ruins ... But you must remember that on the Somme nothing is left after such fighting as we have had here - in many cases not a vestige of the village remains, let alone impressive ruins !'(4)
Bone drew the aftermath of the fighting, he was rarely allowed near the front-line. As a result his panoramic sketches of the battles of Mametz Wood or the bombardment of Longueval show little more than hazy smoke on a distant horizon. As one critic noted it was "like a peep at the war through the wrong end of the telescope".
(5) This was not a criticism that could be levelled at CRW Nevinson.

Nevinson revelled in the role of the front-line war artist. He was described as a "desperate fellow and without fear [who was] only anxious to crawl into the front line and draw things full of violence and terror".(6) His war memoir (aptly-entitled Paint and Prejudice) bristles with exciting incidents such as the time he made an unauthorised visit to Ypres on the eve of the Passchendaele offensive, or another occasion when drawing near the British front line:
    '( I )got shelled, had to stick glued against a bank for an hour wondering when Fritz would leave off. I wondered why on earth I had not devoted myself to painting 'nice nudes' in a warm studio,
    instead of risking so much for a picture which will probably not sell,be accused of being faked and certainly be abused by the inevitable arm-chair journalist.'(7)
In fact the opposite was true. Once exhibited, Nevinson's war paintings and prints attracted huge crowds and, initially, critical acclaim. In part this was due to the artist's energetic publicity campaign, but it was also because his paintings of troops marching, bombs exploding, and machine-gunners in action combined figurative realism with simple geometric abstraction. Outwardly his work could not have seemed more different to Bone's; but for all its radical modernism the work remained "intelligible and unintimidating" (8) especially to soldiers home on leave. A year later, however, just as the Observer correspondent asserted that "he stands alone, in England, as the painter of modern war" (9) Nevinson shed his modernist veneer and turned to a more realistic pictorial style, one intended to evoke suffering, endurance and the stark realities of static warfare.

Twenty years later, as another world war threatened, both artists again offered their services. Bone, with an embellished reputation as the artist of the industrial sublime, and knighted for his services to the art world, again became the first official British artist to see action in the Second World War. Appointed to the Admiralty with the rank of honorary major, Royal Marines, he drew diligently in the shipyards at Portsmouth producing compelling and stirring images of the British fleet. In 1940 he recorded the return of the remnants of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk. Bone had lost none of his eye for telling detail which had made him so useful for propaganda purposes during the Great War. Furthermore, he was extraordinarily versatile and quick to adapt to government needs. In December 1940, for example, he was summonsed from a sketching mission in west Scotland to depict the ruins in London after the devastating raid of 29 December. His drawing St Brides and the City after the Fire is an extraordinary image - quite enormous at 77 inches by 44 inches in dimension - which depicts in microscopic detail the smouldering remains of the City. It was later described as 'the kind of document one would produce as evidence before a commission on bomb damage'.
(10)

While Bone flourished, Nevinson floundered. After the Great War his work lost its dynamic energy and polemic intensity; like so much English painting in the 1920s it lacked a distinctive flavour and a guiding principle. In 1940 his application to become an official war artist was turned down and the pictures he submitted were rejected. Although he gained an independent commission from the Royal Air Force, he was deeply upset by official rejection and later suffered a severe stroke. Typically, he continued to argue his case even applying for a menial clerical post as assistant to the war artist's advisory committee. "Though an eye is lost", he wrote in late 1942, "my hand is not and there is every hope of getting it right back".
(11) Four years later Nevinson died, aged fifty-seven, having learned to paint with his left-hand.

I have dwelt at length on these two very different British artists because they tell us something of the differences and common themes in the art of the two wars. It has been said of the Second World War
(12) that very little art could have been produced unless it was done within the auspices of the government-funded art scheme. To a lesser extent this was also the case during the First World War. Indeed, one art critic goes so far as to argue that the official war art scheme was one of the British government's 'few inspired moments' because it recognised the cultural value of artistic records in addition to their propaganda function. (13) Let us look in more detail at these schemes.

Commissioning the Artists
The origins of an official war art scheme during the First World War can be traced to a decision made by the Foreign Office, in late August 1914, to establish a secret department to manage and disseminate British propaganda. The department, headed by Liberal politician Charles F.G.Masterman, was known simply as Wellington House, after its office address in Buckingham Gate, London. Working in secret, the department published and distributed clandestine literature aimed at neutral countries across the globe. In April 1916 a pictorial section was established and an extraordinary variety of visual propaganda was commissioned; this included war films, picture cards, calendars, bookmarks, lantern-slides as well as photographs and line drawings. An all-picture publication, the War Pictorial, was produced in five language editions and achieved a world-wide circulation of 300,000.

It soon became apparent, however, that the flow of photographs from the battle fronts could not meet the voracious demands of the department. By late 1915 the illustrated newspapers too were desperate for authentic front-line images and were offering cash incentives to soldiers with suitable sketchbook material.
(14) The decision to employ artists, rather than studio illustrators, was partly due to the fact that many of the key staff at Wellington House were established figures in the London art world (15) but also because the new photogravure process of volume printing allowed images of subtle tonal complexity to be well reproduced. By sponsoring war art a government could also appear to be nurturing cultural freedom, as opposed to the vulgar propaganda of German Kultur. Only in the latter stages of the war did the idea of creating an art collection as a permanent memorial emerge as a coherent aim. Credit for this must go to Max Aitken (later Lord Beaverbrook) who bought an organisational flair and entrepreneurial zeal (first honed on the Canadian War Memorials scheme) to the newly formed Ministry of Information in March 1918.

What was the impact of this complex organisational structure on British artists ? In the first instance, it provided a small number of painters and printmakers with regular work. Artists such as William Orpen were in demand:About ten minutes past four up breezed a car, and in it was a slim little man with an enormous head and two remarkable eyes. I saluted and tried to make military noises with my boots. Said he:
    "Are you Orpen ?" "Yes, sir," said I. "Are you willing to work for the Canadians ?" said he. "Certainly, sir," said I. "Well," said he, " that's all right. Jump in, and we'll go and have a drink."(16)
Under Aitken's stewardship the British War Memorials Scheme became systematic and prescriptive: wartime activity was divided into eight subject groupings (Army, Navy, Air Force, Merchant Marine, Land, Munitions, Clerical and other work by Women, Public Manifestations) and artists were then selected to fit these subjects. By the end of the war over 130 artists had been conscripted to this purpose, these included sixteen 'soldier-artists' who had been released from active service to paint on the front-line.

Commissioning could be quite draconian. The artist Adrian Hill, who had served at the front as a signaller and scout in the 1st Honourable Artillery Company, was told precisely what to draw:
    Towns and localities behind the lines which are specially identified with the British Army ... points of juncture between our line and the line occupied by the French, American, Belgian and Portuguese, so as to show the different nationalities side by side ... labour and engineering work by Coloured Battalions which show the distinct dress of the Chinese etc., and especially some sketches of Tanks HQ showing repairing and the like. (17)
In time Hill produced an extensive portfolio of 187 pen and ink drawings documenting rather mundane and unremarkable activities of the war zone. An active commissioning policy, however, had its drawbacks. Whereas Hill's drawings were encouraged (and it is said, were highly regarded by General Haig) his oil paintings were flatly rejected: "The committee was not favourably impressed by your oil paintings and it was thought desirable that you should keep to drawings in future." (18)

The main thrust of the Ministry (and in turn the newly formed National War Museum) was to create both a record and a memorial through its art collection. Some artists were paid to produce a single picture for an intended Hall of Remembrance (£300 plus materials and studio expenses for one of the larger pictures). Younger, less established artists were offered a rather more modest deal - a salary of £300 per annum in return for their total artistic output during that period. This proposal was accepted by now familiar figures such as Paul Nash, Colin Gill, Bernard Meninsky and John Nash (all aged under thirty) but, interestingly, rejected by Nevinson who surmised that it would "prove a bad business proposition". (19)

Inevitably, the Hall of Remembrance was not built, nor was the great Canadian Memorial scheme intended to house Aitken's other collection of war art. Arguably the greatest legacy of the war's art was the scheme itself. Twenty years later it provided the template for the War Artists' Advisory Committee (W.A.A.C.) headed by the respected art historian Sir Kenneth Clark, then the Surveyor of the King's Pictures at Windsor and Director of the National Gallery, London. Despite Clarks' single-minded ambition to produce an outstanding artistic record of the war by employing many of Britain's finest painters, printmakers and sculptors he soon became entangled in the political rivalries of Whitehall and the Armed Services. "Painting of war scenes is publicity and not news ..." opined one memorandum from the Ministry "and it ought therefore to be our responsibility and not that of the service departments". (20)


Clark was also restricted by the need to employ artists capable of making representational or illustrative work. In 1942 he looked back on the perameters set by the committees' terms of reference:
    The War Artists collection cannot be completely representative of modern English art, because it cannot include those pure painters who are interested solely in putting down their feelings about shapes and colours, and not in facts, drama and human emotions.(21)
While not fully representative, Clark trawled far and wide for the best artists. In its first sixteen weeks the committee considered some eight hundred names, including all those employed during the Great War. Few made the grade. Nevinson, as we have seen, was omitted. A few veterans - Paul Nash, Kennington, and Bone - were recruited. The fees offered by the WAAC were lower than those offered in the Great War ; £150 to £200 was the average price of an oil painting, watercolours might be bought for as little as £10.

In the second war, most art was 'made to order', and although some artists were given commissioned rank and loosely attached to a fighting unit, their output was constantly tailored towards producing a particular portfolio of images. In the Great War, the first wave of official artists had been given honorary rank, a vague brief and allowed to roam at will. All this changed as the Beaverbrook reforms took hold and artists were required to conform to the grand scheme of the Hall of Remembrance. Although this produced some fine art it also produced an air of conformity; several landscape painters, for example, agreed to work to a common horizon line. The government's attempts to make a complete record of military activities also bred an atmosphere of casual overproduction.

Managing the schemes of both wars required logistical prowess, administrative dexterity and, perhaps most crucially, patience. Those in the military who had to deal with the artists seemed to have suffered equally during both wars. In 1917 the Department (later Ministry) of Information had asked that a permanent artists base be set up in France to cater for greater numbers than the one-at-a-time system so far in place. This did not happen. The BEF Intelligence Chief General Sir John Charteris, argued that two artists at any time was ample and complained of their unfortunate tendency to "want to sit down and look at a place for a long time." (22)

Little had changed by the second war. The minutes of the War Artists' Advisory Committee (which met weekly between November 23rd 1939 and December 28th 1945) relate numerous tales of petty frustrations and restrictions, tinged with some modest successes:
    29 12 1939                 Letters to Robert Medley [artist] in A.R.P. offering 50 gns
                                       for 8 pictures of scenes at a disembarkation port in France
                                       and of 'life at the base'

    11 1 1940                   Medley refused permission to go to France by the War Office
                                       and appointed to do Civil Defence.

    7 2 1940                     John Nash and Eric Ravilious appointed Captain, Royal
                                       Marines. Medley authorised to travel third class.

    and more prosaically:

    13 9 1943                   'Home Security: Mr Kenneth Rowntree. This artist has
                                       accepted the commission to paint jam-making, which
                                       is being done by the Women's Institute.'(23)
However humble his calling, Mr Rowntree's achievement in gaining the status of an officially appointed artist was considerable. There were a great many others in both wars, who yearned for such a position. Those who administered the war artists schemes were inundated with requests from artists who wished to sell war-related work, or who craved official accreditation. Algernon Mayow Talmage, Royal Academician, silver medallist at the Paris Salon, bronze medallist at the Pittsburgh International exhibition was one such artist. In May 1917 he presented his credentials to the war museum:
    'No picture that I am aware of, has been really studied on the spot so as to get the real environment and atmospheric conditions and phenomenon. I have been painting in the open all my life and I feel that were it possible to give me opportunities to study this subject I could paint a picture which would be a value as a record and venture to hope as a work of art which would be something entirely different to the usual hackneyed and unconvincing picture.' (24)
Like so many others, he was turned down.

Rowland Hill, by comparison, was an unknown painter who had served out the war as a lance-corporal ("a very unimportant item" as he described it) in the Royal Defence Corps on Home Service. Two months after the Armistice he wrote the first of many letters to the War Museum pleading for 'official leave' to "make some record of our true battlegrounds, and of the immensely picturesque material before it is all 'mended' and tidied up".(25) Despite several rejections Hill eventually gained a passport to travel to France, but failed to gain clearance to sketch in the old war zones. Undeterred he again approached the war museum, only to be rebuffed. Eventually, as restrictions were eased, he gained access and seems to have visited the 'sacred sites' on the old front line - destroyed tanks on the Freyzenburg Ridge, the Cloth Hall at 'Wipers', the Ramparts, etc. We know this because for the following twelve years he wrote regularly to the museum begging them to buy his work: "Will your people give me two guineas for this drawing of the Ramparts of Ypres", he wrote in January 1930, "It is unique in its way. I am pitifully hard up and the money would help me considerably." (26) Deluged with similar requests the museum pleaded lack of funds and a glut of images of ruination. There is however a pleasing coda to this tale. Hill's obituary of 1952 relates:
    It is difficult to assess the influence of events on the work of a man, but one definite step was achieved in his career. After the war he received a permit to visit the battlefields and one of his works created out of that venture hangs in the Imperial War Museum.
And this oil painting, Ypres, donated by the painter to the war museum in December 1919, is listed in a dictionary of painters as one of Hill's principal works. (27)

Similarly, throughout the Second World War the authorities were besieged by earnest, but frustrated, 'war artists'. In March 1940 the secretary of the WAAC, E.M.O'r.Dickey wrote despondently to a fellow committee member:
    There is a man called Richard Ellis who has been plaguing the life out of us here. His trouble is that he wants to be both an official artist and a spy at the same time ... I seem to be fated to refer to you people whose handwriting nobody can read. (28)
What was at the root of this fascination with depicting warfare? Few of those who aspired to become war artists did so to avoid danger: in both wars artists were exposed to discomfort and death. Financial security may have held some attraction: though as we have seen the remuneration was rarely generous. Perhaps we must recognise that many artists wished to be exposed to the privations of war so as to test out and hone their skills in unique and demanding circumstances. To witness, interpret and leave some form of personal testimony was an ambition more pervasive than is commonly thought. In both wars, it appears, artists needed to come to terms with their violent muse. (29) " I tell you" wrote the soldier-artist Keith Henderson in October 1916, "the 'subjects' are endless, and in particular I long to do great big stretches of this bleak brown land". (30) Twenty five years later, official artist Edward Bawden wrote in a similar vein:
    It often seemed to me unfair that I should enjoy the privilege of remaining an Official War Artist in the Middle East when there are so many competent painters at home ... so many others have not had the privilege of being able to pursue their civilian occupations. I must admit that I thoroughly enjoy the life, that trekking and camping or a long march gives me immense pleasure. (31)
Subject Matter
In 1943 the poet Stephen Spender wrote that 'War Pictures' could mean only one thing: "famous ruins ... our historic monuments in their sudden decay ... the bombed city". The artist of this war, he declared, is "the Civilian Defence Artist".
    In the last war we would have meant pictures of the Western Front ... a picture of blasted trees, trenches, mud, shell-holes, shattered Ypres, the straight roads of France with army lorries moving through a landscape of bursting shells, a landscape where no bird sang.(32)
Despite the many other theatres of war - East Africa, Gallipoli, Salonika and Jerusalem - the trench world of Flanders was, and still is, the leitmotif of that conflict. "There is a kind of insistence" concludes Spender, "a continuity, about the idea of the Western Front, which immediately conjures up the whole of the Great War". (33) Artists played their part in re-inforcing this condition, though not all of them found it abhorrent. Painters and poets developed a morbid obsession with the phantasmagoric terrain of No Man's Land. David Jones described its strange topography as a place of:
    ...sudden violences and long stillnesses, the sharp contours and unformed voids of that mysterious existence profoundly affected the imaginations of those who suffered it. It was a place of enchantment. (34)
It is ironic that such a quantity of paintings, prints, drawings (and the occasional relief sculpture) should have resulted from a land that had been so systematically destroyed. Not all artists could translate the desolation into visual terms. John Singer Sargent was dumbfounded :
    The further forward one goes the more scattered and meagre everything is. The nearer to danger, the fewer and more hidden themen - the more dramatic the situation the more it becomes an empty landscape. (35)
Faced with emptiness artists learned to describe the void. Although Muirhead Bone's drawings of piles of rubble in the midst of a few burnt tree stumps are entitled 'Deniecourt Chateau' or 'Thiepval Village' there is little to prove that he was in the correct location. Instead, many artists fixed on the few remaining architectural icons of the Western Front. The Cloth Hall of Ypres and the ruined Basilica and Leaning Madonna at Albert were favourite motifs; indeed it would be possible to compile a pictorial record of the tortuous destruction of the Cloth Hall from the hundreds of drawings and paintings made by British artists alone. One painter, David Baxter (serving as an official artist with the Red Cross and St John's Ambulance) painted the ragged remains of the Flemish hall no fewer than twenty four times. (36)

Images of the soldier, though numerically fewer, could have a memorable impact. The first painting of the Great War to capture the public imagination had been Eric Kennington's reverse painting on glass The Kensington's of Laventie which depicted a platoon of dishevelled infantrymen preparing for the trenches. The picture's authority is based in part on its harsh authenticity and extraordinary technical virtuosity, but also on Kennington's experiences as a footsoldier. (37)

Like the soldiers painted by Nevinson, Kennington's weary and dishevelled platoon is a far cry from the heroic youth daily depicted in the illustrated press or hanging from the walls of the Royal Academy every summer - "castrated Lancelots" as Nevinson lampooned them. (38) Painting a uniformed figure, however, required a level of draughtsmanship that was often beyond the talents of the amateur and this may in part explain the prevalence of battlescapes in the Great War oeuvre.

Images of ruined towns and buildings were common to both wars.They were especially prevalent during the first years of the second world war. The reason is obvious : left without a toe-hold on the continent Britain had to endure months of aerial bombardment. Compared to the deserted warscapes of Nash and Nevinson the bombed cities of London, Coventry and Bristol are populated with wardens, construction and demolition teams, firemen and stretcher parties. Here the accent is on dogged resistance, rather than benighted desperation. In the second war, paintings of the ruined city served as the narrative background to "the new type of warrior" - the ordinary man, long suffering, but ever determined. "The hero" argued J.B. Morton, "even when he is not in the picture, is Tom, Dick or Harry, and the heroine his wife." (39) This resulted in a form of popular, democratised portraiture in which the despatch rider, the auxiliary fire messenger, and the air raid warden became the focus of artists' attention. In the previous war such sittings would have been strictly reserved for high ranking generals and air aces.

The benighted and blitzed Britain of the 1940s presented a very different challenge to artists normally accustomed to working en plein air. Nightshift production, sunken control rooms, dimly lit headquarters offices became legitimate subject matter for artists, giving rise to a sub-genre of claustrophobic, busy interiors. The Blitz also produced a new motif of the administrator as war hero. Meredith Frampton's triple portrait of the Senior Regional Commissioner for Civil Defence in the London Region and his deputies is, as Angela Weight observes, a formidable image of 'administrative sang-froid'(40) providing evidence that "order, stability and control" are being maintained despite the chaos and darkness above ground.

The Blitz provided artists with an extraordinary narrative of movement, colour and action. The crowded dormitories of London's shelters and underground stations gave draughtsmen such as Felix Topolski and Edward Ardizzone unique opportunities to draw complex forms in subdued lighting. Henry Moore's shelter sketches proved to be a turning point in his artistic development. British painting, though, lacked the painterly language that might match the apocalyptic vision of the Blitz . Composed primarily of illustrators and draughtsmen, many of the WAAC artists were short of the expressive power needed to describe the catastrophic grandeur of the bombing.

For four years the Home Front was the cultural lodestone of the Second World War, just as the Western Front had been during the Great War. This is immediately obvious in the titles of the two series of illustrated booklets ' War Pictures by British Artists' funded by the Ministry of Information and published by Oxford University Press in 1942 and 1943. The four booklets in series one were entitled War at Sea, Blitz, R.A.F., Army ; the second series Women, Production, Soldiers, Air-Raids. Amongst the fifty pictures reproduced in Production, for example, are depictions of tank manufacture, miners at work, barrel testing, and 'snack time in a factory'.

Such limited subject matter might have dispirited the most innovative artist. But this appears not to have been the case. R.V.Pitchforth's painting of 'Snack-time' is, in fact, a typically bold design of three workmen hastily consuming their food. His painting 'Welding Bofors Guns' describes the same men immersed in their work. Pitchforth accentuates the harsh light, the simple repetition of cube and cylindrical forms amidst the theatrical setting of the darkened factory. During the First World War, many of the younger war artists had adopted the geometric dynamic offered by Cubist and Vorticist art to shape the industrial scale of the war machine. Painters such as Edward Wadsworth and Nevinson learned to simplify their pictorial language, opting for the diagonal line over the perpendicular, extreme tonal differences over subtle gradations, simplification instead of detail. Wadsworth's images of dazzle ships epitomise this bold and uncompromising method. Thirty years later British artists renewed their interest in the industrial process by bringing together the abstract formal qualities of the built environment but paying greater attention to the role of the individual worker.

This reached its zenith in Stanley Spencer's extraordinary sequence of paintings depicting the shipyards on the Clyde produced between 1940 and 1946. Employed by the WAAC, Spencer thrived in the close-knit community of Port Glasgow and he learned quickly to understand the individual tasks of the different workers. His precise drawing style was ideally suited to the visual confusion of the welding shops, the panel beating and the caulking. Having never been taught to sketch rapidly, however, he was not always able to capture the bustling energy of the yards. In 1942 he wrote somewhat dejectedly:
    'I wish I could have made more particular studies of the men ... What I seriously need is to make a careful series of drawings ... of women and men ... in their native clothes. ... It is that subtle variation in their clothes [which is] expressive of their varied character that is so truly full of charm, beauty, and interest. But whenever I have been up there they have all been too busy'.(41)
In both wars artists rapidly learned to make the most out of the physical and visual constraints of the workplace. Nowhere was this more evident than when drawing in the blitzed cities. Graham Sutherland had first realised the "possibilities of destruction as a subject" when drawing in bombed Swansea in 1940.(42) But it was not until he was required to return to the east end of London that he began to appreciate the gravity of events and his responsibilities as an artist:
    'I had been attempting to paraphrase what I saw and to make paintings which were parallel to rather than a copy of nature. But now, suddenly, I was a paid official - a sort of reporter and, naturally, not only did I feel that I had to give value for money,but to contrive somehow to reflect in an immediate way the subjects set me'. (43)
Finding the devastation around the City "more exciting than anywhere else" he made what he called 'perfunctory drawings' as a way of accustoming himself to the weird sights of flattened office blocks, charred buildings, twisted and collapsed lift-shafts 'like a wounded animal'. But like his predecessors in the Great War, Sutherland took to his tasks in a very businesslike way:
    '..on a typical day, I would arrive there from Kent where we had resumed living, with very spare paraphernalia - a sketchbook, black ink, two or three coloured chalks, a pencil - and with an apparent watertight pass that would take me anywhere within the forbidden area'. (44)
Working sketchbooks show us how Sutherland developed his initial impressions. One drawing made in Fore Street, City of London in 1941 has been 'squared-up' so that it can be transferred in the studio to a canvas or larger sheet of paper. There is a palpable tension between the ink and charcoal marks that describe the awful devastation, and the precisely numbered transfer lines coolly drawn over the surface of the tortured city. It is as if the artist was trying to use lineal order and control to neutralise the hurt. Notations in other sketchbooks tell us much about the matter-of-fact way many war artists went about their business; Sutherland's drawings of tin miners in Cornwall are accompanied by brief phrases that evoke the non-visual phenomena:
    Miner approaching turns on hearing voice issues from slope below.Walls dripping with moisture. Do paintings sufficiently large to give an impression of the actual scale of the mine tunnel. (45)
We can learn a great deal from scrawled marginalia and notes in artists' sketchbooks. In First World War drawings we find similar notations - detailed colour notes, vital information about insignia, occasionally the censor's signature and date stamp. In a reconnaissance sketch drawn from a front-line trench by Paul Maze, the phrase "could not go on through heavy shelling" is scribbled, with appreciable haste, in the corner of the unfinished image.(46)

In both wars artists often had to cope with poor equipment and sub-standard materials - Maze writes in his war memoir of a time when the watercolour brush actually froze on the paper. During both period there are many stories of artists overcoming difficult, sometimes appalling circumstances. This was especially true of those artists who were captured and confined to prison of war camps. Jack Chalker kept an illicit sketchbook while building the Burma Railway as a prisoner of the Japanese.
(47) Official War Artist John Worsley was captured in 1943 while taking part in daring raids in the Adriatic. During his imprisonment in Marlag Camp, Bremen he made watercolours of the camp and an oil painting of the contents of a red cross parcel. Soon after his release, Worsley successfully appealed to the organisers of an exhibition of war art at the National Gallery to exhibit this work:
    'I took so much trouble, and underwent such considerable hazard (including hiding much from the Germans) to get them out of Germany and in a small way justify my capture, that the disappointment was extreme. I even constructed a container from Red Cross milk tins, which I carried for an eighty-mile march, under strafing from fighter planes, to get them here'. (48)
The Artist as Combatant
As we have seen, the second wave of official war artists commissioned during 1917 and 1918 were largely drawn from officers and soldiers with recent front-line experience: Wyndham Lewis had been a subaltern with 6th Howitzer Battery; Paul Nash and John Nash had served respectively with the Hampshires and the Artists Rifles; William Roberts had been in France with the Royal Field Artillery, and Stanley Spencer was barely surviving as a footsoldier with the Berkshire Regiment in Macedonia. The Studio arts magazine regularly published lists of artists, illustrators, poets and draughtsmen serving with the forces.

Front-line experience bought a vigour and edge that had largely been missing from the work of establishment figures such as William Orpen and Muirhead Bone. Once experienced, however, few of these soldier-artists expressed a wish to return to the theatre of war. Lewis might have described modern war as " the greatest romance" but he also wrote of life in the salient as an unpalatable "mixture of tedium and acute danger"
(49) and most of the young artists painted their memorable pictures while safely ensconced in studios in rural England.

Drawing on the front-line was often a hazardous, but illuminating experience. In the months before his appointment as an artist, Adrian Hill had served as a scout and sniper. He recalled a typical drawing patrol in No-Man's-Land:
    'I advanced in short rushes, mostly on my hands and knees with my sketching kit dangling around my neck. As I slowly approached, the wood gradually took a more definite shape, and as I crept nearer I saw that what was hidden from our own line, now revealed itself as a cunningly contrived observation post in one of the battered trees'.(50)
Many of Hill's later front-line drawings share this same quality - hurriedly drawn eye-witness accounts of lone figures scurrying across the flattened ground, tanks marooned on the battlefield, signallers feeding out wire in a dissipated space.

Hill's fluid and active drawings predict many of the front-line images of the second war. Artist's output in that war had fallen into several distinct phases: images of waiting and watching during the Phoney War of 1939, paintings of industrial production during the early 1940s, partnered by the powerful drawings of the Blitz by Sutherland, Piper and Moore. Between 1942-43 home-based artists - such as Pitchforth and Vaughan - described periods of intense training and preparation. During 1944, just as the war in Europe exploded into action, artists had to rise (as Hill had done) to the challenge of a fluid, physically demanding and dangerous artistic environment.

Possibly the finest example of the artist-soldier in World War Two is the young painter Albert Richards. Born in 1919 Richards had already served three years as a sapper, followed by a year as an engineer parachutist before being transferred for official duties as a war artist - the committee having been impressed by batches of drawings and watercolours he had submitted. Unlike many artists faced with the repetitive sights of ruin and blitz, Richards found subjects everywhere : anti-tank ditches, searchlight batteries, camouflaged huts, bailey bridges and the myriad of physical tasks of the sapper were all recorded. Perhaps Richards most impressive work of early 1944 were his renditions of parachute training in southern England. Parachuting could not have been more different from the earth-bound duties of a sapper. The experience was exhilarating, bringing weightlessness and release from the tedium of ordinary life. To the artist it introduced a unique new vista :
    The ground, once seen with all its ugliness and imperfections, was now a remote drifting region of spilled yellows, greens and brown, the sky tilted and the body freed. (51)
On midnight before D Day, 6th June 1944, Richards parachuted into Normandy with 9th Battalion 6th Airborne Division to produce "paintings of the war and not preparations for it ". (52) This he certainly did. But upon landing it was found that all the officers were injured and Richards, still only an honorary Captain, had to take command of the platoon and advance on their objective, an enemy battery near Merville, east of SWORD beach. The battery was taken just two hours before the beach landings began. Soon after, Richards made four watercolour sketches of 'the landing at H hour minus six', the aftermath of the attack on the battery, 'the constant watch for snipers' at Le Plein, and gliders cross-landed against a bridge. Later in England he was able to develop and refine these hastily drawn images. On July 19th he described the circumstances in which they had been made:
    'I know the four watercolours I sent in to you were much below what I expected of them. I was in a rather dazed condition when I painted them ... The method which the committee suggests I work is the method which I have been brought up to. The Design School at the R.C.A. was a great believer in giving the subject time to develop before putting any statement on paper. I have always felt that if the subject was good enough, it would still be fresh months after seeing it, and probably would have developed in one's mind during that time.(53)
Richards was an adventurous watercolourist. Often he ignored the customary rules; a favourite technique was to rub a wax candle into parts of the paper so as to animate the picture surface and create a texture that might evoke the surface of a glider canopy or an abandoned vehicle. As well as being an intuitive colourist, Richards had no fear of the colour black : he used it frequently to unify a picture's design or to control the swathes of orange and red that appear so often in his work. Richards' best work bears comparison with the Great War work of Paul Nash; there is a similar ability to animate a picture through surface design, and a keen understanding of the role of outline in the internal scaffolding of the paintings.

Characteristically, Richards had a low opinion of his front-line work. Like many war artists he was torn between his function as an impartial observer and his responses as a friend and colleague. He wrote in 1944 :
    'I am not sure of their value. In painting them my mind was always full of my gallant Airborne friends who gave their lives so readily. It's the first time I have ever witnessed death in this crude from. Somehow I am hoping that it will all help me to paint the pictures that I want to paint yet feel unable to do so. I feel that watercolour transparent and opaque will be the best medium for me to use at this stage of the battle'.(54)
Other artists had landed on the beaches of Normandy. Anthony Gross waded ashore holding his drawing board high over his head. Barnett Freedman, Stephen Bone and Richard Eurich drew on the beaches during June and July. Hard lessons were learned. Edward Ardizzone, for example, had remembered to protect his precious artist's materials. One year earlier during an amphibious landing in Italy he had lost his balance and fallen into the water. His sketchbook, though, was safe - "I'd wrapped that up in a F.L. (French Letter) for protection against the water".(55)

Stephen Bone arrived in mid-July and spent many weeks recording scenes on sea and shore. Like many oil painters he was irritated by the dust and sand. Muirhead Bone, drawing on his experiences of an earlier war, advised the WAAC that artists should use a special box for wet oils "I remember Orpen travelled with several of these - he needed them on the Somme - I remember that !"
(56)

After the breakout from the beachheads, artists followed close behind the advancing Allied armies - a mobility that was never enjoyed by Adrian Hill or Paul Nash. The rapid advance bought its own problems. Albert Richards found there was no time to develop his front-line sketches. In February 1945 he wrote to Gregory at the WAAC:
    'Advances are happening at different points in the line. So much so, that one is inclined to hop from one sector to another. The landscape is becoming more interesting as we climb out of Holland into Germany. The flooded landscape has brought fresh interest to the warfare ...Slowly but surely we are creeping into Germany, one might say into Germany in bottom gear which surely applies to driving in a jeep, for it's not traffic that holds one up, it's the muddy roads. I'm not very good at traffic hold-ups which I suppose are inevitable, and I've developed the bad habit of trying to find a new road.'(57)
His habit had fatal consequences. A few days after writing, Richards turned off the road near the Maas River and drove straight into a minefield. He died later that night, aged just 26.

This terrible loss points us to the single most surprising difference between the artists of the two World Wars. Only one official artists died in the Great War (a minor Naval painter, Geoffrey Allfree) whereas three died in the second war - Richards on the Maas, Eric Ravilious off Iceland, and Thomas Hennell in Indonesia. These three were artists of quality, still young and with their very best work ahead of them. In an unpublished article on 'the work of the war artist' Hennell summarised the dilemma facing his colleagues; he leaves us with a fitting epitaph to this analysis of their experience in the two World Wars:
    The artist has but one duty, to observe and record - the moment he is tempted to interfere or play an active part himself he ceases to perform his duty as an artist.(58)
Notes:
1 Flyleaf introduction to War pictures by British Artists, first series, vol. 1-4, 1942.

2 Nevinson, CRW, Paint and Prejudice, London : Methuen, 1937, p.103

3 George Bernard Shaw quoted in Bone's obituary, The Times, 23 October 1953

4 Bone to Ernest Gowers, 30 September 1916, Imperial War Museum, London (IWM) Department of Art, file M999 Part 1

5 Manchester Guardian, 30 August 1917

6 CFG Masterman to John Buchan, 18 May 1917, IWM Dept. of Art, Nevinson file

7 Nevinson to Masterman, 30 July 1917, IWM Dept. of Art, Nevinson file

8 Harries, Meirion and Susie, The War Artists, London: Michael Joseph, 1983, p.39

9 Konody, Paul, Modern War Paintings by CRW Nevinson, London : Grant Richards, 1917

10 quoted in Harries, op.cit., p.186

11 Nevinson to Bracken, 31 December 1942, IWM Dept. of Art, Nevinson file

12 Ross, Alan, Colours of War: War Art 1939 - 45, London : Jonathan Cape, 1983, p.24

13 Farr, Denis, English Art: 1870 - 1940, Oxford : OUP, 1978, p.226-227

14 See for example Illustrated London News 24 April 1915, 4 September 1915, and The Graphic 8 January 1916

15 Amongst the staff at Wellington House were Eric Maclagan, later Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum ; Campbell Dodgson, Keeper of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum ; Alfred Yockney, one-time editor of Art Journal

16 Orpen, William, An Onlooker in France, London : Williams and Norgate / Ernest Benn, 1923, p. 42

17 ffoulkes to Hill, 14 June 1918, IWM Dept. of Art file 74/3 part ii

18 Director-General of National War Museum to General Haig, 1 October 1917 ; Yockney to Hill, 27 February 1919, IWM Dept. of Art file 74/3 part ii ;
See also Hill's letters of 4 October 1917, 12 November 1917 held in the Brotherton library, Liddle Collection, Leeds University

19 Nevinson to Masterman, 10 March 1918, IWM Dept. of Art Nevinson file

20 Deputy Director General to Director General, 6 November 1939, IWM Dept. of Art file GP/46/A

21 'War Artists at the National Gallery', The Studio, CXXIII, January 1942, p.586

22 Charteris to Masterman, 12 March 1917, IWM file G4010/17

23 WAAC Minutes file, IWM

24 IWM Dept. of Art file 303/7

25 IWM Dept. of Art file 156/5 pt ii

26 Hill to E.Blaikley, 28 January 1930, IWM Dept. of Art file 156/5 pt ii

27 Waters, Grant M., Dictionary of British Artists working 1900 - 1950, Eastbourne Fine Art, 1975

28 EM O'r Dickey to Coote, WAAC Minutes, 6 March 1940

29 For a fuller debate on this topic see Howlett, Jane and Mengham, Rod (eds) The Violent Muse, Manchester University Press, 1994

30 Henderson, Keith, Letters to Helen, privately published, 1917, p. 66

31 Bawden to Dickey, 16 October 1941, IWM Dept. of Art

32 Spender, Stephen: War Pictures by British Artists: Second Series, no.4, Air Raids, Oxford University Press, 1943

33 Spender, ibid.

34 Jones, David, In Parenthesis, London : Faber, 1937, p.x

35 Mount, Charles Serrill, John Singer Sargent: An Autobiography, London : Crescent Press, 1957, p. 297

36 See Gough, Paul, "The Empty Battlefield", Imperial War Museum Review, no. 8, 1993, pp.38-48

37 The Kensingtons at Laventie, IWM Dept. of Art 15661
See also the essay on the painting by Angela Weight, Imperial War Museum Review, No.1, 1986

38 Nevinson to Masterman, 25 November 1917, IWM Dept. of Art, Nevinson file

39 Morton, J.B., War Pictures by British Artists - First Series, No.2, Blitz, Oxford University Press, 1942

40 Weight, Angela, 'Night for Day: the symbolic value of light in the painting of the Second World War', Imperial War Museum Review, 1988, p. 50

41 Stanley Spencer to Dickey, 4 March 1942, IWM Spencer correspondence;
see also Stanley Spencer RA, Royal Academy of Arts, 1980, p. 193

42 Sutherland quoted in Daily Telegraph, 10 September 1971

43 Sutherland, ibid.

44 Sutherland, ibid.

45 Notes on the artists' drawings held by the IWM Dept. of Art

46 Cited in Gough, Paul, The Experiences of British Artists in the Great War, eds. Liddle and Cecil, London : Leo

Cooper, 1996, p.847

47 Chalker , Jack, Burma Railway Artist : War Drawings of Jack Chalker, London, Leo Cooper, 1994

48 Worsley, 8 October 1945, quoted in Ross, Colours of War, p.177

49 Lewis, Wyndham, Blasting and Bombardiering, London : Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1967, p.184

50 Adrian Hill, 15 November 1930, in The Graphic

51 Richards quoted in Ross, Colours of War, p.104

52 Richards to Gregory, 5 June 1944, IWM Dept.of Art

53 Richards to IWM, 19 July 1944

54 Richards to Gregory, end of June 1944

55 Edward Ardizzone, unpublished diary entry, 8 July 1943

56 Bone to Gregory, 12 August 1944, IWM Bone file

57 Richards to Gregory, ? February 1945. This was Richards' last letter to the WAAC

58 Hennell, unpublished article 'The Work of a War Artist', IWM.

Bibliography
Cork, Richard, A Bitter Truth: Avant-Garde art and the Great War, New Haven, Connecticut, Yale University Press, 1994

Darracott, Joseph and Keegan, John, The Nature of War, New York : Holt, Rinehart, Winston, 1981

Foote, M.R.D., Art and War : Twentieth century Warfare as Depicted by War Artists, London : Headline, 1990

Fosse, Brian, Art of the Second World War, New Haven, Connecticut, Yale University Press, (in preparation)

Harries, Meirion and Susie, The War Artists, London :Michael Joseph and Tate Gallery, 1983

Harrington, Peter, British Artists and War : the Face of Battle in Paintings and Prints, 1700 - 1914, London, 1993

Mayes, William, The Origins of an Art Collection (First World War), unpublished manuscript, Imperial War Museum, London

Ross, Alan, Colours of War: War Art 1939 - 45, London : Jonathan Cape, 1983

Shone, Richard, A Century of Change: British Painting since 1900, Oxford : OUP, 1977

Spalding, Frances, British Art since 1900, London : Thames and Hudson, 1986


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