British official war artists

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British official war artists were a select group of artists who were employed on contract, or commissioned to produce specific works during the First World War, the Second World War and select military actions in the post-war period.[1] Official war artists have been appointed by governments for information or propaganda purposes and to record events on the battlefield;[2] but there are many other types of war artist.

A war artist will have depicted some aspect of war through art; this might be a pictorial record or it might commemorate how war shapes lives.[3] A war artist creates a visual account of war by showing its impact as men and women are shown waiting, preparing, fighting, suffering and celebrating.[4]

The works produced by war artists illustrate and record many aspects of war, and the individual's experience of war, whether allied or enemy, service or civilian, military or political, social or cultural. The rôle of the artist and his work embraces the causes, course and consequences of conflict and it has an essentially educational purpose.[3]

First World War[edit]

Throughout the early years of the First World War, the British Government did not support an official war artist scheme. This began to change after artists who had served on the Western Front, such as Paul Nash and Christopher R. W. Nevinson exhibited paintings based on their experiences in France.[5] The public acclaim that Eric Kennington received when his painting The Kensingtons at Laventie was first exhibited in London in April 1916 prompted Charles Masterman, head of the British War Propaganda Bureau, acting on the advice of William Rothenstein, to appoint Muirhead Bone as Britain's first official war artist in May 1916. After Bone returned to England he was replaced by his brother-in-law, Francis Dodd, who had been working for the Manchester Guardian. In 1917 arrangements were made to send other artists to France including Kennington, Nash, Nevinson, William Orpen and William Rothenstein. John Lavery and others were recruited to paint pictures of the home front.[6]

Early in 1918, responsibility for the British war artists was passed to the British War Memorials Committee, BWMC, when the Department of Information became the Ministry of Information with Lord Beaverbrook as its Minister.[7] Rather than focus on short-term propaganda, the main aim of the BMWC was to create a lasting memorial to the war in the form of a national Hall of Remembrance. To this end younger artists, including Stanley Spencer and Wyndham Lewis, were commissioned by the BWMC to produce a series of large artworks, After the War, when the BWMC was wound up, this series of artworks, which included The Menin Road by Paul Nash and Gassed by John Singer Sargent, became part of the Imperial War Museum collection.[8]

Second World War[edit]

The British War Advisory Scheme (WAS) was administered by the War Artists' Advisory Committee, WAAC, of the Ministry of Information. The project was devised and run by Kenneth Clark, Director of the National Gallery.[1] When the committee was dissolved in December 1945 its collection consisted of 5,570 works of art produced by over four hundred artists, who had been employed on either full-time contracts, short-term contracts or commissions for individual works.[9]

Selected artists[edit]

First World War[edit]

Second World War[edit]

"Drumcree, The Garvaghy Road July 1997" by David Rowlands, oil on canvas, 91cm x 61cm

Recent conflicts[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Tolson, Roger. "A Common Cause: Britain's War Artists Scheme." Canadian War Museum, 2005.
  2. ^ National Archives (UK), "'The Art of War,' Learn About the Art."
  3. ^ a b Imperial War Museum (IWM), About the Imperial War Museum
  4. ^ Canadian War Museum (CWM), "Australia, Britain and Canada in the Second World War," 2005.
  5. ^ Art from the First World War. Imperial War Museums. 2008. ISBN 978-1-904897-98-9. 
  6. ^ Merion Harries; Susie Harries (1983). The War Artists, British Official War Art of the Twentieth Century. Michael Joseph, The Imperial War Museum & the Tate Gallery. ISBN 0 7181 2314 X. 
  7. ^ Ulrike Smalley. "How The British Government Sponsored The Arts In The First World War". Imperial War Museum. Retrieved 28 September 2016. 
  8. ^ Paul Gough (2010). A Terrible Beauty: British Artists in the First World War. Sansom and Company. ISBN 978-1-906593-00-1. 
  9. ^ National Portrait Gallery. "World War II: Official War Artists". National Portrait Gallery. Retrieved 29 February 2016. 
  10. ^ Imperial War Museum. "A Shell Forge at a National Projectile Factory, Hackney Marshes, London, 1918 [Art.IWM ART 4032]". IWM Collections Search. Retrieved 16 April 2013. 
  11. ^ a b c "Women at war: The female British artists who were written out of history". The Independent. 8 April 2011. 
  12. ^ Imperial War Museum (2013). "Works by David Bomberg". IWM Collections Search. Retrieved 13 March 2013. 
  13. ^ Imperial War Museum (2013). "Works by Muirhead Bone". IWM Collections Search. Retrieved 13 March 2013. 
  14. ^ Imperial War Museum (2013). "Works by Frank Brangwyn". IWM Collections Search. Retrieved 13 March 2013. 
  15. ^ Imperial War Museum (2013). "Works by George Clausen". IWM Collections Search. Retrieved 13 March 2013. 
  16. ^ "Olive Edis". Retrieved 2012-07-15. 
  17. ^ World War Pictures, Augustus John, war artist
  18. ^ Imperial War Museum. "Gassed and Wounded [Art.IWM ART 4744]". IWM Collections Search. Retrieved 16 April 2013. 
  19. ^ Imperial War Museum. "A Battery Shelled [Art.IWM ART 2747]". IWM Collections Search. Retrieved 16 April 2013. 
  20. ^ "John Hodgson Lobley, 1878–1954". BBC / The Public Catalogue Foundation. 
  21. ^ Imperial War Museum (2013). "Works by Fortunino Matania". IWM Collections Search. Retrieved 13 March 2013. ; Italian artist working in Britain.
  22. ^ Imperial War Museum. "'Over The Top'. 1st Artists' Rifles at Marcoing, 30th December 1917 [Art.IWM ART 1656]". IWM Collections Search. Retrieved 16 April 2013. 
  23. ^ Imperial War Museum. "The Menin Road [Art.IWM ART 2242]". IWM Collections Search. Retrieved 16 April 2013. 
  24. ^ Imperial War Museum. "Harvest, 1918 [Art.IWM ART 4663]". IWM Collections Search. Retrieved 16 April 2013. 
  25. ^ Imperial War Museum (2013). "Works by William Rothenstein". IWM Collections Search. Retrieved 13 March 2013. 
  26. ^ "Austin Spare, war artist". Retrieved 2012-07-15. 
  27. ^ Imperial War Museum (2013). "Works by Gerald Spencer Pryse". IWM Collections Search. Retrieved 13 March 2013. 
  28. ^ Imperial War Museum. "Travoys Arriving with Wounded at a Dressing-Station at Smol, Macedonia, September 1916, 1919 [Art.IWM ART 2268]". IWM Collections Search. Retrieved 12 Nov 2013. ; also a war artist in World War II.
  29. ^ "Edward Ardizzone" (in French). Retrieved 2012-07-15. 
  30. ^ "Edward Bawden" (in French). Retrieved 2012-07-15. 
  31. ^ "Eliot Hodgkin". Imperial War Museums. Retrieved 2012-09-16. 
  32. ^ "Refugees: Mother and Child". Imperial War Museums. Retrieved 2012-02-29. 
  33. ^ Imperial War Museum. "Shipbuilding on the Clyde: Bending the Keel Plate, 1943 [Art.IWM ART LD 3106]". IWM Collections Search. Retrieved 12 Nov 2013. 
  34. ^ a b c "Contemporary War Artists: Introduction". Imperial War Museum. Retrieved 29 June 2012. 
  35. ^ "Contemporary War Artists: Peter Howson: Bosnia". Imperial War Museum. Archived from the original on 6 January 2009. Retrieved 21 April 2013. 
  36. ^ "Contemporary War Artists: John Keane: The Gulf War". Imperial War Museum. Retrieved 29 June 2012. 
  37. ^ "Contemporary War Artists: Linda Kitson: The Falklands War". Imperial War Museum. Retrieved 29 June 2012. 
  38. ^ David Rowlands
  39. ^ Owen, Nick (26 September 2011). "In our own Words: Soldiers share their thoughts on war in Afghanistan at Imperial War Museum". Retrieved 29 June 2012. 
  40. ^ Foreman, Jonathan (13 September 2010). "Alixandra Fazzina: Witness to the devastation". The Telegraph. Retrieved 6 May 2016. 


Further reading[edit]

  • Gallatin, Albert Eugene. Art and the Great War. (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1919).
  • Harrington, Peter. British Artists and War: The Face of Battle in Paintings and Prints, 1700–1914. (London: Greenhill, 1993). ISBN 1-85367-157-6
  • Haycock, David Boyd. "A Crisis of Brilliance: Five Young British Artists and the Great War." (London: Old Street Publishing).
  • Hichberger, J.W.M. (1988). Images of the Army: The Military in British Art 1815–1914. Manchester: University Press.
  • Knott, Richard, The Sketchbook War. The History Press, 2013.
  • Sillars, Stuart (1987). Art and Survival in First World War Britain. Basingstoke: Macmillan.
  • Holme, Charles. The war depicted by distinguished British artists (The Studio Ltd., 1918).

External links[edit]