War artists

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War artists


Gray, Anna


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War artists
by Anna Gray

The Australian official war artists were men and women specifically commissioned to depict and interpret Australia’s involvement in war and warlike activity. Many significant Australian artists received these commissions. In the First World War, George Bell, Charles Bryant, Will Dyson, A. Henry Fullwood, George Lambert, Fred Leist, John Longstaff, H. Septimus Power, James Quinn and Arthur Streeton were appointed official war artists, and George Benson, Frank Crozier, Will Longstaff, Louis McCubbin and James Scott were selected to become Australian War Records Section artists. J. S. McDonald was appointed and trained as a camouflage artist but never took up a position. Daryl Lindsay was seconded to become a medical artist at the Queen Mary Hospital at Sidcup, Kent, in England. Other artists, such as George Coates, W. B. McInnes, Florence Rodway and Charles Wheeler, were commissioned to paint portraits and large battle pictures after the war. Will Longstaff, who was an Australian War Records Section artist during the war, made a name for himself later as a war artist through his painting, Menin Gate at Midnight (q.v.), which became one of the most popular pictures on the theme of war. It portrayed ghostly steel-helmeted soldiers rising from the cornfields of Flanders, and it provided comfort to those who welcomed its spiritualist message. When it toured Australia in 1928–29 it was viewed by record crowds.

During the Second World War several war art schemes operated: the official war artists, appointed by the Australian War Memorial (q.v.); the army artists, servicemen seconded to portray the war; and the Military History Section artists, servicemen appointed to work on the Christmas annuals. Dennis Adams, George Allen, Colin Colahan, William Dargie, Murray Griffin, Harold Herbert, Roy Hodgkinson, Alan Moore, Arthur Murch and Frank Norton received official war artist appointments. In March 1945, Sybil Craig, Robert Emerson Curtis, James Flett, Donald Friend, John Goodchild, Sali Herman and Max Ragless were added to their ranks. Three women, Stella Bowen, Sybil Craig and Nora Heysen, were appointed official war artists. Harold Abbott, Charles Bush, Lyndon Dadswell, Ray Ewers, Henry Hanke, Ivor Hele, Geoffrey Mainwaring, Douglas Watson and Malcolm Warner enlisted in the AIF and were seconded as army artists. Richard Ashton, Walter Beaumont, George Browning, John Dowie, Frank Hodgkinson, Tony Rafty and Ralph Walker joined the AIF and were seconded as Military History Section artists. The official war art scheme did not end at the end of the war; Ernest Buckmaster was sent to Singapore, and Reginald Rowed and George Colville went to Japan with the British Commonwealth Occupation Forces (q.v.). Albert Tucker was in Japan with BCOF as a war correspondent.
Harold Freedman, Max Newton and Eric Thake were RAAF War History Section artists. William Dobell and Herbert McClintock were Allied Works Council artists, employed by the Civil Constructional Corps (q.v.). Douglas Annand, George Duncan, and Frank Hinder worked as camouflage artists. Walter Pidgeon was a war correspondent.
Sculptors such as George Allen, Wallace Anderson, Margaret Baskerville, Paul Beadle, Lyndon Dadswell, Ray Ewers, Charles Web Gilbert, May Butler George, Rayner Hoff, Bertram Mackennal, Paul Montford, Daphne Mayo and Charles Douglas Richardson worked on war memorials (q.v.) for towns all around Australia, following the First and Second World Wars. Napier Waller achieved substantial recognition as a war artist through his stained-glass windows and mosaic for the Australian War Memorial’s (q.v.) Hall of Memory.

Ivor Hele and Frank Norton were war artists during the Korean conflict and Bruce Fletcher and Ken McFayden during the Vietnam War. Recently, George Gittoes was sponsored by the Australian Army to depict their participation in peace-keeping (q.v.) missions in Somalia, Cambodia and Western Sahara.

Although not specifically commissioned, some who were trained as artists enlisted in the services and produced work in their spare time. These artists might be considered to be war artists. They include Penleigh Boyd and Horace Moore-Jones in the First World War and John Brack, Kenneth Jack, Louis Kahan, Frank McNamara, Francis Lymburner, Hal Missingham, Oliffe Richmond, Elsa Russell and Albert Tucker in the Second. Wilfred McCulloch, while serving in the AIF as a stretcher-bearer, was killed while working in a volunteer relief party during the Malayan campaign.

Artists have also depicted war and aspects of military life of their own volition. They include civilians like Grace Cossington Smith and Hilda Rix Nicholas in the First World War; Ethel Carrick Fox, Noel Counihan, Russell Drysdale, Margaret Preston and John Perceval in the Second; and again Noel Counihan, as well as David Boyd, Richard Larter and Clifton Pugh during the Vietnam War. However these artists are not generally thought of as war artists, but as artists who painted war subjects. Many contemporary artists who comment about or reflect on war in their work are likewise not regarded as war artists, but are considered to be artists who turn to war as one of a number of topical subjects.

©Anna Gray