Bernard Hailstone (1910–1987) was an English painter, best known for his Second World War portraits of transport and civil defence workers painted in Britain, his portraits of members of the Armed Forces painted overseas and his post-war portraits of the royal family, musicians, stage and film actors.
Damaged Tanks being Lowered into the Hold of a Merchant Ship (1943)
At the beginning of the Second World War, Hailstone felt the need to incorporate his artistic contribution to the war effort with more physical sacrifices. He therefore joined the Auxiliary Fire Service and witnessed at first hand the horrific destruction caused by bombing during the Blitz. He recorded some of these scenes in his paintings. A number of other artists had joined the AFS and a firemen artists' committee had been formed which also included Leonard Rosoman, Paul Lucien Dessau, Norman Hepple and Robert Coram alongside Hailstone. The group contributed to both War Artists' Advisory Committee, WAAC, and specialist civil defence art shows, including several firemen artists' exhibitions. In 1941 WAAC, commissioned Hailstone to paint civil defence subjects. He supplemented these works with portraits of his colleagues in the fire services and other war workers. His portrait of W. M. Ladbrooke, Able Seaman, Merchant Navy (National Maritime Museum, London), painted following a visit to the Merchant Navy convalescent home in Limpsfield, Surrey around 1943, embodies sympathy for the heroic yet vulnerable sailor. Following his release from the fire services, Hailstone spent time painting portraits of transport and civil defence workers. In 1943 WAAC assigned him to the Ministry of War Transport and he moved to Kingston upon Hull, working mainly around the docks there, where he continued to record the effects of the war from a civilian perspective. One such work is his Big Ben the Bargee, showing a bargeman and his wife and completed in June 1943 (National Maritime Museum, London). Throughout the rest of the war Hailstone travelled through Algiers, Malta and southern Italy, recording the activities of the Merchant Navy in a similar, sympathetic vein. In June 1945, Hailstone was transferred to the Ministry of Information to record the work of the South East Asia Command during the Burma Campaign. The paintings he produced of Lord Louis Mountbatten and key members of his staff are now in the Imperial War Museum, London.
After the war Hailstone had a very successful career as a portrait painter. A gregarious, outgoing man, Hailstone went on to paint the last officially commissioned portrait of Sir Winston Churchill in 1955 and members of the Royal family, but he as happily painted ordinary members of the public. Portraits of Laurence Olivier and Paul Mellon followed. The latter led to several commissions in America which provided the funds to save the tower and some ancillary buildings of Hadlow Castle, where Hailstone had lived from 1951, from demolition.