Sketchbook war

I’ve just finished reading Sketchbook war- Saving the nation’s artists in World War II by Richard Knott and, for those with an interest in (20th century British painting or in war artists, I would highly recommend it.

World War One art and poetry has always tended to dominate public attention, but the morale, documentary and artistic value of having painters record the many aspects of the war was recognised in 1939- probably more readily than in 1914.  Some of the artists involved- notably Paul Nash- worked in both conflicts, but Knott in his book chooses to record some of the less well known names.  The book is therefore an account of a little known subject and an introduction to the work of painters whom you might not otherwise have discovered.  The paperback edition is nicely illustrated with a colour section and plenty of photos from the front.

My favourites include:

  • Henry Lamb– not a household name, but some striking portraits and pictures of Canadian armoured corps training- for example Canadian troops replacing track on this Mark I Matilda;

(c) Mrs Henrietta Phipps; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

  • Laura Knight– who recorded the home front and the role of women in the war effort- for example, A balloon site near Coventry;

A Balloon Site Coventry 1943

  • Richard Sedden– very attractive watercolours including this Tank recovery on the retreat to the coast, June 1940– one of the many British light tanks that probably was left behind at Dunkirk;


  • Albert Richards–  more watercolours from a combatant who was also an artist, for example, The advance- France 1944; and

Richards, Albert, 1919-1945; The Advance, France: Burnt Out German Petrol Tankers

  • Eric Ravilious– like Richards, a casualty of the conflict, and a considerable loss to British art.  Here are Ark Royal in action and Diving controls.  Ravilious’ handling of light, reflections and skies is always especially impressive;




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