28 October 2014

Art at Imperial War Museum

Transport glitches meant we decided to go see the Truth and Memory: British Art of the First World War show at the Imperial War Museum. We didn't expect there to be quite so many people - the museum was packed! - and later we learned that one of the train operators was offering special fares to families. It's half term, so the kids need entertaining...
After its £40m refurbishment, the museum retains its central space but has galleries round the edges. This view is from the back toward the entrance - to go to the upper levels, you either descend and cross the floor, or go through the bookshop and along the gallery, which turns out to be rather difficult in crowded conditions, as bits of equipment on display are sticking out, and the lighting is "atmospheric". So far, not a positive experience, but worth another visit on a weekday.

Fortunately the art galleries were rather less populated, and several had seating. The scenes depicted, and the emotional burden behind them, made for depressing viewing, but there was much to admire, and the labels cast new light on the paintings, the artists - and the shenanigans of the bodies commissioning war artists.
Anna Airy, Shop for Machining 15 inch Shells (via)
The shop for making shells in Glasgow was formerly the Singer Manufacturing Company, notorious for low pay - its turbulent history is indicated by the littered floor.
Percy Wyndham Lewis, A Battery Shelled, 1919 (from here, which has a good selection of images)
Eric Kennington, The Kensingtons at Laventie, 1915
Kennington's painting shows soldiers arriving at their billet; one figure is a self-portrait. It's done in an unusual technique, painting on the reverse of the glass, which requires the paint to be applied top-down, as it were. It was painted when he was invalided out in 1915.
CRW Nevinson, Paths of Glory, 1917
The dead soldiers in Paths of Glory are British soldiers - this didn't go down well - it seemed to be ok to show the dead bodies of the enemy, but not of "our boys". Nevinson was a medical orderly and as he was an official war artist, the painting had to get past the censor - and was banned on the grounds of being detrimental to morale.

It might be worth going along to the hour-long gallery talk (at 11, 1 and 3pm) on the first Saturday of the month - the exhibition runs till 8 March.

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