War Artists

War Artists and the Battle of Britain

Despite the critical situation following the Dunkirk withdrawal, when invasion was expected daily, aspects of a cultured and civilised society were maintained even when it may have seemed reasonable to suspend them in the face of such an emergency. One was the recording, by pencil and brush, of features of the war effort. Official photographers were relatively common and were employed by all three services and the myriad ministries that had sprung up.

Kenneth Clark (later Lord Clark) was employed by the Ministry of Information at the start of the war. As the functions of this ministry took time to thrash out there was scope for imaginitive schemes to be initiated. In his autobiography Clark states:

A few weeks after the outbreak of war I set in motion a plan by which artists should be commissioned to make a record of the war. I was no doubt thinking of the Canadian War Artists scheme in the 1914-18 war and how I had been deeply influenced by the exhibition of their work at the Royal Academy in 1917. However I was not so naive as to suppose that we should secure many masterpieces , or even a record of the war that could not be better achieved by photography. My aim, which of course I did not disclose, was simply to keep artists at work on any pretext and, as far as possible, to prevent them from being killed. In fact outstanding works were produced. Paul Nash was seconded to the RAF. John Piper was the ideal recorder of bomb damage and Graham Sutherland transferred his feelings for the menacing forms of roots and trees to twisted girders and burnt out bales of paper. Above all the tube shelters gave Henry Moore a subject that humanised his classical feeling for the recumbent figure and led to a series of drawings which will, I am certain, will be considered the greatest works of art inspired by the war.

This website will cover all the work produced by various artists during the Battle and the following period which came to be known as the ‘Blitz’ but there is no doubt that the most prolific artist of this period was Paul Nash.

 

Paul Nash        –  Aerial Creatures

Henry Moore  – Plane Crash Sussex, Summer 1940