Art of the First World War - A Day of Talks

Talk Heritage First World War

As part of the end of the First World War Centenary commemorations, Southwark Cathedral is delighted to host this day of talks with experts on art and artists of the Great War

'I am no longer an artist. I am a messenger who will bring back word from the men who are fighting to those who want the war to go on for ever. Feeble, inarticulate will be my message, but it will have a bitter truth and may it burn their lousy souls'.  Paul Nash

The First World War was the first conflict to spawn a wealth of artistic output from those who fought on its battlefields. 

To commemorate the Centenary of the end of the First World War, Southwark Cathedral is delighted to be joined by four experts on art and artists of the Great War.  Over the course of the day you will discover a small selection of the Imperial War Museum's exceptional art collection from this period, to the life and works of some of the most famous and not so famous artists who shaped the public view of the war.

10.30am - Rebecca Newell 

Highlights from the IWM First World War Art collection

The IWM’s art collection is one of the largest and most important representations of twentieth century British art in the world. It includes many great works of art from the British government war art schemes of the two World Wars. In its reflection of artists as eyewitnesses, participants, commentators and officially commissioned recorders of war, the First World War official War Art collection reveal to us all aspects of that conflict as seen and experienced by ordinary people, both civilians and service men and women. Framed in a time of unprecedented government patronage of the arts, during which the establishment and the public embraced the avant-garde, it reveals too how artists broke with tradition, creating a new visual language to communicate the truth, depth and horror of what they saw. 

Rebecca Newell joined the IWM as Head of Art in early September 2017. She is working on all aspects related to the care, display and interpretation of the IWM preeminent art collection – the critical framework for which is the museum’s foundation in 1917 to the present day - identifying new opportunities for collecting and working with artists and partners. Current research projects include work on LGBTQ experiences in conflict situations, ‘military masculinities’ and aspects relating to the war artists schemes of the World Wars. She has a background in art history (BA and MA from the Courtauld Institute of Art) and museology, and prior to joining IWM, worked as a curator for six years at the newly reopened National Army Museum during a critical time of redevelopment. Alongside wide-ranging collections development and research into contemporary art and conflict, female service experiences and LGBTQ and the army, she was part of the small team responsible for curating the new permanent galleries, working on all aspects and with stakeholders, audiences and partners to the point of delivery in April 2017. She also initiated collections outreach, co-curatorial and artist engagement activities, and started a rolling art commissioning project during her time at the museum.

11.45am - David Boyd Haycock

Paul Nash and CRW Nevinson

Paul Nash and C.R.W. Nevinson were two of the most significant artists to paint the soldiers and battlefields of World War One. Walter Sickert described Nevinson’s painting La Mitrailleuse (‘The Machine-Gun’, 1916, Tate Britain) as probably ‘the most authoritative and concentrated utterance on war in the history of painting’. Another contemporary wrote that Nash’s shattered landscapes seemed to have been ‘torn from the sulphurous rim of the inferno itself.’ This lecture explores the artistic development of both men and their distinct but related responses to representing an extraordinary, horrific and very modern war in paint.

Dr David Boyd Haycock has worked as an academic at the Universities of Oxford and London, and as a curator at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.  He is now a freelance writer, lecturer and curator specializing in British cultural history of the early twentieth century.

He is the author of a number of books, including Paul Nash (Tate Publishing, 2002); A Crisis of Brilliance: Five Young British Artists and the Great War (Old Street Publishing, 2009), which was short-listed by the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain as best work of non-fiction, 2009; and I Am Spain: The Spanish Civil War and the Men and Women who went to Fight Fascism (Old Steet Publishing, 2012). He curated the exhibition ‘Nash, Nevinson, Spencer, Gertler, Carrington, Bomberg: A Crisis of Brilliance, 1908 to 1922’ at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in the summer of 2013.


1.00pm - 2.00pm



2.00pm - Dr Jonathan Black

'Speed, grace and dodging the grim reaper': The Experiences of Lieutenant Sydney Carline (1888-1929) Fighter Pilot and War Artist in France, Italy and the Middle East, 1916-19.

'Sydney Carline (1888-1929) studied at the Slade School of Art, University College London between 1907 and 1911, winning several prizes. By the outbreak of the First World War he was emerging as a highly talented painter, etcher and medal-designer. Late in 1915 he volunteered to serve in the Royal Flying Corps. He was awarded his wings in July 1916 and a month later was flying missions over France. He was shot down and nearly killed after a flying a raid over the Somme battlefield. After a lengthy recuperation he returned to duty in 1918 as a fighter pilot flying the celebrated Sopwith Camel in the skies over north-eastern Italy. He shot down three enemy Austro-Hungarian aircraft before he was appointed in July 1918 an official war artist attached to the RAF section of the Ministry of information. My talk will explore the striking and evocative work Sydney produced first in Italy and then in the Middle East when he was sent there with his younger brother Richard early in 1919 to record the significant contribution the recently created RAF had made to the destruction of Ottoman Turkish military power in the region in 1918. Over several months (January-August 1919) Sydney and Richard made the journey of a lifetime, sketching and painting for the RAF in Egypt, Palestine, Syria, the Lebanon, Iraq and northern Persia - ending up by the shores of the Caspian Sea.'

Dr. Jonathan Black was awarded his PhD in History in Art by University College, London in 2003 for a thesis exploring the Image of the Ordinary British Soldier or 'Tommy' in the war art and memorial sculpture of: C.R.W. Nevinson (18891-1946), Eric Henri Kennington (1888-1960) and Charles Sargeant Jagger (1885-1934) c. 1915-1925. His publications include monographs on Kennington as a sculptor (2002) and as a war artist in WWII (2011), a study of Nevinson as a printmaker (2014) and of the image of Winston Churchill in British Art c. 1900-2015 (2017). He has curated 10 exhibitions including one focussing on the prints of CRW Nevinson (2014); 'War in the Sunshine: The British In Italy, 1918' at the Estorick Collection, London (2017) and on the society portraitist Sir Oswald Birley (1880-1952) at the Philip Mould Gallery, London (2017). He is currently a Senior Research Fellow in History of Art at Kingston School of Art, Kingston University.

3.15pm - Professor Paul Edwards

A Battery Shelled

Wyndham Lewis (1882–1957) was one of the first abstract painters in Europe, and leader of the Vorticist movement in London in 1914.  He was also famous as a writer.  During the war he served as an artillery officer in the Third Battle of Ypres – Passchendaele.  Then he became an official war artist, first for Canada, then Great Britain.  His most famous war-painting, A Battery Shelled (IWM collection), is based on his experience of Passchendaele.  This ‘official’ commission compelled him to abandon the abstraction he had pioneered, but he did not simply return to academic naturalism, and his war art is still stylised.  Lewis came to hate war, but he used his art to try to understand modern, mechanised war rather than to protest against it. Lewis produced many drawings of the gunners’ war, and these will feature in this talk.  But A Battery Shelled is one of the most enigmatic of war paintings, and the talk will in part be an attempt to explain its meaning.

Paul Edwards is Emeritus Professor of English and History of Art (Bath Spa University).  He is an authority on Wyndham Lewis’s art and writing, and wrote the catalogue of the Imperial War Museum’s 1992 exhibition, ‘Wyndham Lewis: Art and War’, and the preface to the book accompanying IWM North’s 2017 exhibition, ‘Wyndham Lewis: Life, Art, War’. He has curated several exhibitions of Lewis’s work, is the author of Wyndham Lewis: Painter and Writer and is the General Editor of the multi-volume Oxford University Press ‘Collected Works’ of Lewis.

Main Image:  Over the Top by John Nash

(c) Imperial War Museum (Art. IWM Art1656)