War Artists 1914-1918
The British War Propaganda Bureau (W.P.B) was established in September 1914, soon after the outbreak of the First World War. David Lloyd George, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, appointed writer and Liberal M.P. Charles Masterman to head the bureau.
Masterman was aware that paintings could be powerful in promoting the government's view of the war. In May 1916, he recruited the artist Muirhead Bone. Bone was sent to France and produced 150 drawings of the war by October. When he returned to England, Bone was replaced by his brother-in-law, Francis Dodd.
In 1917, Masterman arranged to send other artists to the Front. They included William Orpen, Paul Nash and C R W Nevinson. John Lavery painted images of the Home Front.
In February 1917, the government established a Department of Information. Masterman retained responsibility for books, pamphlets, photographs and war paintings. On 4 March 1918, Lord Beaverbrook was made Minister of Information. Masterman became the department's director of publications.
Beaverbrook rapidly expanded the number of artists in France. With Arnold Bennett, he established a British War Memorial Committee (B.W.M.C).
Artists chosen for the B.W.M.C. programme were given instructions different from those given to artists who had been sent to the front in previous years. Artworks were 'no longer considered primarily as a contribution to propaganda, they were now to be thought of chiefly as a record'.
B.W.M.C. artists included John Singer Sargent, John Nash, Henry Lamb, Henry Tonks, Wyndham Lewis, Stanley Spencer, Charles Pears, David Bomberg, Frank Brangwyn, William Henry Dyson and Charles Ginner. In all, more than 90 artists produced images for the government during the war.
The works produced were put to good use. Art exhibitions were organised in Britain and America to raise morale at home and promote Britain's image abroad.
Many of the artists found the work difficult. Some produced very little. Others, such as Paul Nash, complained about the government's control over subject matter. He once told a friend, 'I am not allowed to put dead men into my pictures because apparently they don't exist'.
C.W.R. Nevinson was one of the scheme's strongest critics. Some of his paintings, such as Paths of Glory, were considered unacceptable and not exhibited until after the end of the war.
Following its establishment in 1917, the Imperial War Museum became responsible for collecting material documenting the war. At the end of the war, the various art collections were combined at the museum.
The British government took a more structured approach to the collection of official war art during the Second World War.
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