Anna Airy

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Anna Airy
Born (1882-06-06)June 6, 1882
Greenwich, London, England
Died October 23, 1964(1964-10-23)
Greenwich, London, England[1]
Nationality British
Occupation Artist

Anna Airy (June 6, 1882 – October 23, 1964) was an English oil painter, pastel artist and etcher. She was one of the first women officially commissioned as a war artist[2] and was recognised as one of the leading women artists of her generation.[3]

Early life[edit]

Airy was born in Greenwich, London,[4] daughter of engineer Wilfrid Airy and Anna née Listing, and granddaughter of Astronomer Royal George Biddell Airy.[5][6] Airy trained at the Slade School of Fine Art in London from 1899 to 1903, where she studied alongside William Orpen and Augustus John, under Fred Brown, Henry Tonks and Philip Wilson Steer. Airy won prizes at the Slade School for portrait, figure, and other subjects including the Slade School Scholarship in 1902. She also won the Melville Nettleship Prize in 1900, 1901 and 1902.[7]


An Aircraft Assembly Shop, Hendon (Art.IWM ART 1931)

Airy was given commissions in a number of factories and painted her canvases on site during World War I, in difficult and sometimes dangerous conditions. For example, while working at great speed to paint A Shell Forge at a National Projectile Factory, Hackney Marshes, London in an extremely hot environment, "the ground became so hot that her shoes were burnt off her feet".[8] This painting was featured in an exhibition at the Imperial War Museum's 2011-2012 exhibition Women War Artists.[9]

In June 1918 the Munitions Committee of the Imperial War Museum commissioned her to create four paintings representing typical scenes in four munitions factories:[10]

  • National Projectile Factory at Hackney;[8]
  • National Filling Factory at Chilwell, Nottingham, W G Armstrong Whitworth's at Nottingham;
  • Aircraft Manufacturing Co. at Hendon;[11]
  • South Metropolitan Gas Co.

She was also commissioned by the Women's Work Section.

In 1917 she was commissioned by the Canadian War Memorials Fund; and in 1940 by the Ministry of Munitions.[7]

Her etching Forerunners of Fruit (c.1925) is in the collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales.[12]


Airy's work was exhibited at the Royal Academy and elsewhere in 1905 and in each subsequent year, her first one-woman exhibition having been held at the Carfax Gallery in 1908. She was also exhibited at International Exhibitions, including Continental, Colonial, and American. She has been represented in the British Museum; the Victoria and Albert Museum; and the Imperial War Museum. Her work also appeared in the National Art Gallery of New South Wales, as well as in Auckland, New Zealand; Vancouver and Ottawa in Canada; and in the Corporation Art Galleries of Liverpool, Leeds, Huddersfield, Birkenhead, Blackpool, Rochdale, Ipswich, Doncaster, Lincoln, Harrogate, Paisley and Newport.[7]


Airy is the author of:

  • The Art of Pastel (1930) London: Winsor & Newton[13]
  • Making a Start in Art (1951) Studio Publications London, New York


1906 Member of The Pastel Society (elected).

1908 Royal Society of Painters and Etchers (elected).

1909 Member of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters.

1918 Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours (elected).

1945 President of the Ipswich Art Society (elected).

1952 Member of the Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts.


  1. ^
  2. ^ Arifa Akbar (8 April 2011). "Women at war: The female British artists who were written out of history". The Independent. Retrieved 2 September 2013. 
  3. ^ Tolson, Roger. "Art and Daily Life in World War Two". BBC History. Retrieved 16 June 2012. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ Goward, K. J. (2006). "Founding of Orwell Park Observatory". Institute of Astronomy. University of Cambridge. Archived from the original on 2007-11-15. Retrieved 2007-12-16. 
  6. ^ Biography from Thompson's Galleries, London
  7. ^ a b c Who Was Who, 'AIRY, Anna' A & C Black, 1920–2008 (online edn ed.). Oxford University Press. Dec 2007. Retrieved 16 June 2012. 
  8. ^ a b Imperial War Museum. "A Shell Forge at a National Projectile Factory, Hackney Marshes, London, 1918 [Art.IWM ART 4032]". IWM Collections Search. Retrieved 17 April 2013. 
  9. ^ Imperial War Museum (7 April 2011). "Press Desk: Women War Artists". Retrieved 17 April 2013. 
  10. ^ Imperial War Museum. "Miss Anna Airy [ART/WA1/031 (First World War Art Archive)]". Retrieved 17 April 2013. 
  11. ^ Imperial War Museum. "An Aircraft Assembly Shop, Hendon [Art.IWM ART 1931]". IWM Collections Search. Retrieved 17 April 2013. 
  12. ^ AGNSW collection record
  13. ^ "Airy, Anna." Chambers Biographical Dictionary. London: Chambers Harrap, 2007. Credo Reference. Web. 25 March 2010

External links[edit]