WOMEN AT WAR
WOMEN AT WAR ‘If she can do what she has done in War, what may she not do in Peace?’
HOLDING THE LINE 7th Annual War Art Exhibition
Making Do and Carrying On An Introduction to Women at War by Dr Gill Clarke
Dr Clarke is author of a number of books on twentieth century art, including Evelyn Dunbar: War and Country (2006), The Women’s Land Army: A Portrait (2008) and From Fields to Factories: Women’s Work on the Home Front in the First World War (2014). She is Visiting Professor and Honorary Curator at the Otter Gallery, University of Chichester. Women at War is a remarkable exhibition of newly discovered work produced during the Second World War by women artists with established reputations as well as those lesser known. It is remarkable for a number of reasons: firstly, all too often women’s
styles and experiences as powerful witnesses to the immense contribution that women made to winning the war in the fields, factories, forces and on the domestic front. These
effective and affecting show that there is still work to be found that adds to our knowledge of the practice and spirit of English art
artistic work is neglected.
This is a claim that cannot be levelled at Sim Fine Art whose
“an exciting mix of work that offers a nuanced picture of women’s work on the home front”
previous shows have been devoted to the work of female war artists, including Eleanor Erlund Hudson, Grace Ward and Rosemary Rutherford, whose work is now in a number of regional and national museums as a result. Secondly, not only has women’s creative work frequently been marginalised but it has also remained hidden from public scrutiny. Women at War addresses this and showcases the importance of 2
women artists with differing
As the biographer of the war artist Evelyn Dunbar (1906-60), I am reminded of how Sim Fine Art located her early and significant work Girls Learning to Stook and Men Stooking (1940). Although passed by the Censors the War Artists’ Advisory Committee, (chaired by Sir Kenneth Clark), chose not to acquire it and Dunbar gave it to a friend. It was indeed fortunate that Sim Fine Art identified
Artists’ Advisory Committee. Working independently and outside of official war art schemes the work for instance by Phyllis Pearsall (1906-96) of women in the services, Elva Blacker (1908-84) of the RAF control tower at Biggin Hill in south-east London and Lily Holsfield of evacuee children to name but a few is in many ways more expressive than that constrained by the demands of state patronage. Indeed, Clark reflecting in the 1960s on the work produced by official war artists (there were some 400 artists, of whom just over 50 were women) perhaps a little harshly described the general level of work as ‘mediocre and tame’. Women at War is certainly not tame; rather it is an exciting mix of work that offers a nuanced picture of women’s work on the home ‘Land Girls Stooking’ by Evelyn Dunbar. Identified and re-discovered by Sim Fine Art in 2011. Exhibited for the first time ever at Holding the Line II in the same year.
it and brought it to public attention, exhibiting it for the first time since the war in 2011 to much acclaim. What that find (and others) demonstrate is the importance of tracking down work and the rich rewards in terms of our understanding of wartime art and life that such skilful sleuthing reveals. What is also remarkable about this exhibition is that the work on display was not produced to order under the auspices of the War
front. Although there are no great dramas or heroic scenes per se what is fascinating is the insights that are offered into the diverse work undertaken by women as they ‘made-do’ and ‘carried on’. Detailed and keenly observed and in Pearsall’s case often humorous the works provide vivid and enduring vantage points from which to reassess the impact of war on civilians, service personnel and women artists some of whom combined several roles during the conflict.
Dr Gill Clarke’s latest book is ‘The Diaries of Randolph Schwabe: British Art 1930-48 (2016). 3
Women at War Over the past seven years of producing catalogues of twentieth century war art, a perennially fruitful theme has
been the, often hidden, history of women’s involvement in the production of war art.
As the primary un-earther of British twentieth century war pictures, we can only offer for sale the material we come
across, and, time after time, the often unrecognised pictures we discover and the folios we unveil, are by women. The
work of long-forgotten aunts who ‘did something in the war’ and then put it away thinking – perhaps rightly at the time – that ‘nobody would be interested’. Well, thankfully they are now and so are we.
This year, we have devoted most of our catalogue to
war pictures produced by women and images of women produced during wartime. The majority of these images show women engaged in war-related activities, but we have also
endeavoured to show that for many artists – distinguished academicians and students alike – the world of pure art:
‘Barrack Room Nocture’ by Grace Ward. Acquired by the National Army Museum from our 2014 catalogue.
“Whether her duties be those of a simple batswoman, or call for the bravery of a ferry-pilot or a firewatcher, she has proved her worth... If she can do what she has done in war, what may she not do in peace?” Dame Laura Knight from portraiture to still life, continued, if not to thrive, but to
by regional and national museums and are now publically
In the past seven years, we have featured several major
our centrepiece, Feliks Topolski’s excoriating ‘Germany
from Evelyn Dunbar, Britain’s only full time salaried artist in
was painted in 1945, was rightly recognised as the masterpiece
Keeling and Isobel Heath. This year, we add the amazing Phyllis
There were a number of other important museum acquisitions
entrepreneur as well as artist, Phyllis produced probably the
Isobel Heath and, most significantly, Rosemary Rutherford,
survive and keep the flame of civilisation burning.
available to peruse in national collections. Last year,
collections by prominent and unknown women artists alike:
Defeated’, which we were showing for the first time since it
WWII and Erlund Hudson to Rosemary Rutherford, Pegaret
it undoubtedly is, and has been acquired by the Tate.
Pearsall to their number. A groundbreaking cartographer and
from last year’s catalogue too: of pictures by Edgar Ainsworth,
most comprehensive surveys of women’s wartime activities known to exist.
of whose wholesale rediscovery by the art establishment, we
are very proud. This year we hope to show that as well as
Commissioned by no less a figure than Graham Greene, the
being a significant record of women’s work during WWII,
volume designed to boost morale and encourage women to
that links her thematically and, we believe, qualitatively, to
Over the years, it has been very gratifying that many of the
Andrew Sim 2016
drawings were intended to illustrate a light propagandist
her pictures have a deeper cultural and artistic significance
get involved in the war effort.
Stanley Spencer and Barbara Hepworth.
often unseen pictures in our exhibitions have been acquired
The A-Z of Women at War
PHYLLIS PEARSALL née GROSS (1906-96) Phyllis Pearsall, was, by any standards, an extraordinary woman. Born Phyllis Gross, the daughter of a self-made millionaire immigrant of half Hungarian Catholic, half Jewish stock, she was educated at Roedean (and confirmed into the Roman Catholic church) before tramping across Europe in the late 1920s and early 1930s trying to establish herself as a painter. She acquired a husband, Richard Pearsall – a friend of her brother, the
notable artist, Anthony Gross – and after eight years, together, mostly in Spain and France, promptly abandoned him in a Venetian hotel room, without saying goodbye, before returning to England. In the mid-1930s, Phyllis conceived the idea of a cheap, usable map of London in book form and set about making it a reality, doing much of the mapping legwork on foot (she claimed to have walked 3,000 miles and checked 23,000 streets). By the time war was declared the London A-Z was a runaway success, selling thousands of copies at every railway and underground station news stand as well as in conventional bookshops. The declaration of war brought a temporary cessation to the expansion of her burgeoning business, with restrictions placed on the selling of domestic maps. Phyllis was called up for what she described as a tedious job in the clerical civil service. Meanwhile, to her considerable chagrin, her brother Anthony was appointed an Official War Artist – after producing a one man show at the Leicester Galleries during the Blitz.
ATS Drill Competition Pen 6
In typically indefatigible style, Phyllis wrote to the War Artists Advisory Committee early in 1940, seeking permission to produce pictures herself for the war effort. She wasn’t backward in coming forward: “I have painted
Pic courtesy: A-Z Geographers Map Co. Ltd.
Phyllis Pearsall’s extraordinary wartime journey
for 15 years, have my etchings at the V&A, have exhibited at the Royal Academy and my recent one man show was opened by James Laver at the Goupil Gallery. Some of my work is on sale at Colnaghi’s and at the Leicester Galleries”. In among the often dull and pedestrian Graham Greene correspondence between artists and the committee, which more often than not reads very much like a mundane exchange akin to a job application, Phyllis’s unsolicited letter brims with self promoting zeal, confidence and anarchic energy. It is also hilariously frank. She adds, apropos of nothing in particular: “I ought perhaps to draw your attention that some enquiries were made by the C.I.D about my having painted at Pembrokeshire at Christmas time. This was reported to me by Sir (name redacted). The result was quite satisfactory but I am anxious to put myself in order for the future”. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Phyllis’s letter ended up on the desk of another colourful writer, Graham Greene, then (July 1940) working at the Ministry of Information. Part of the Ministry’s brief was to commission and produce propagandist pamphlets and books designed to boost morale and Pearsall’s publishing experience and energy clearly impressed Greene, who agreed to “do all I can to obtain the necessary permits”. The book she suggested “a 6d book” was a written and illustrated panorama of women’s activities in wartime, from the services to nursing and munitions factories. “I have in mind something light” she said “showing women’s morale in all spheres”. The project ran into difficulties, however, with some of the services
(particularly the WAAF) and Greene wrote: “I am doing all I can to obtain the necessary permits. As you will understand, there must be some delays in getting permission to sketch at the present time...they are very unwilling to give passes as visitors interfere with work and in these days of heightened effort, every minute is of value”. Phyllis, however, showed admirable determination and shrugged off these objections in a series of breezy and informal letters. She obtained the necessary permissions and set about making visits all over the country, as far afield as Blackburn, where she visited a fuse factory. Even the WAAF overcame what she described as “their prejudices”, although during one visit to an RAF base, she was almost arrested by a policeman, who looked at her permit allowing her to sketch members of the WAAF, and asked what she was doing sketching the aerodrome? In her letters to Greene and the Committee’s secretary, E.M O’Rourke Dickey (known as Dickey) Phyllis is breezily informal and entertaining. In one letter to ‘Dickey’, she goes into quite unnecessary levels of detail about her time drawing women at an ARP station in central London: “Last night I went, with Mr Bolster’s kind help, to the Adelphi ARP Post, but the Germans didn’t oblige me by giving them anything to do. But I was pleased to see the ambulance girls sleeping in their Duty Room – on stretchers – which shows at least that the horror of their work does not leave much of a mark”. One wonders what this busy and distinguished civil servant (albeit a former artist) made of such cheeky repartee. Phyllis’s prodigious energy and organisational ability, combined with an illustrator’s ability to capture telling detail at speed, made her the ideal candidate for the job in hand. For months, she toured the country, popping up in canteens, barrack rooms and parade grounds, at lathes and beside cots, observing and recording in her characteristically accurate, but invariably telling way.
The drawings are both informative and witty, with a filigree line reminiscent of her brother, Anthony, and an impressive grasp of detail and overall design. And like Evelyn Dunbar’s work with the Land Army, they are subtly uplifting and cheering, capturing the spirit of women enjoying togetherness and purposeful work in the national interest. Sadly for Phyllis, all her work on the project came to nothing. The book never saw the light of day during the war (although it was later published, as ‘Women at War’ in 1990’). Some of the drawings found their way into the Museum of London but the rest disappeared into private ownership until their recent rediscovery. Taken together, they represent an astonishing treasure trove of material possibly the most complete illustrated record of women’s activities during World War Two to remain in private hands.
Other pictures from Phyllis
wartime activities in WWII
Pearsall’s survey of women’s can be found on the following pages:
You’re in the Army Now Phyllis Pearsall’s fly-on-the-wall account of Life in the ATS
Stand by Your Beds - Kit Inspection CAT. 2 Pen
LAND ARMY &VILLAGES P51-53 WRNS
P54-59 Kitting Out
CAT. 3 Pen
Foot Inspection for ATS Recruits Pen
‘Can’t hear a Word!’ ATS Lecture Hall Pen
Take Notes Girls Pen
Band Practice Pen
CAT. 7 9
The Bugle Sounded Pencil
Folk Dancing - the Highland Fling “Even leisure was well organised”
CAT. 8 Pencil 10
CAT. 10 Pencil
ATS ALFRED EGERTON COOPER R.B.A. (1883-1974) ATS Officer
Cooper was a student at the Royal College of Art, where he won a portrait painting prize judged by John Singer Sargent, who offered him a job as his studio assistant. At the outset of WWI, he volunteered for the Artistsâ€™ Rifles, rising to the rank of Captain. During this period, Cooper continued to exhibit, holding a number of exhibitions at the Leicester Galleries. The Imperial War Museum purchased a number of works from these shows, including some striking oils of airships. This portrait of a young ATS Officer manages to combine the obvious glamour of youth and beauty but also a degree of psychological interest. Underneath the make up and the Vera Lynn waves is a young woman with her mind very much elsewhere, showing a degree of strain indicative of the time in which it was painted.
ATS Officer CAT. 11 Oil on canvas 11
BLITZ ERIC KENNINGTON R.A. (1888-1960) Desiree Ellinger, who drove a NFS (National Fire service) mobile canteen around the London Docks during the Blitz, was also an actress and singer, particularly known for her performances in Gilbert & Sullivan operettas. In 1948, she starred in an historical pageant called ‘The London Story’ commissioned by the L.C.C (London County Council) and performed at the Finsbury Park Open Air Theatre.
Poster for London Underground, 1944 ‘Desiree Ellinger’ CAT. 12 Lithograph 12
PHYLLIS PARKER (fl.1940s) Clearing Up the Mess
Clearing Up the Mess CAT. 13 Oil on canvas, original frame 13
ELLEN DE STREUVE aka LADY ESTHER ELLERMAN (1910-84) Lady ARP Warden ‘Ellen de Streuve’ was the name under which Lady Esther Ellerman, the wife of reclusive millionaire Sir John Ellerman, - a shipbuilder who was allegedly Britain’s richest man at the time - exhibited pictures in the 1930s and 40s. To confuse matters further, Esther had been born plain Esther de Sola, a Canadian of Latin America origin. She signed her pictures ‘E de S’, which has led some to claim that she was simply using her maiden name, but there is an exhibition history for Ellen de Streuve and none for Esther de Sola. The female ARP Warden in our picture has all the air of authority required by the role. She is stationed, judging by the label attached to the coat hanging in the background, at the Kensington ARP post. The frame, too, bears a Kensington frame makers label, suggesting a more than passing connection with the area. The Ellermans had a Kensington address (one of many apparently) but it is not known whether Lady ARP Warden CAT. 14 Oil on canvas, signed and dated 14
RALPH YOUNG (fl.1940s) Night Duty - AFS Fireman
Sir John and Lady Ellerman (aka Ellen De Streuve)
Lady Esther, too, performed any ARP duties. What is known is that at the time our picture was painted, a portrait (presumably of a wartime subject) was recommended to the War Artists Advisory Committee for purchase by a Miss A.Defries, who worked at the Ministry of Information. It is likely that this was Amelia Defries, a noted authoress of the 1930s. In surviving correspondence at the Imperial War Museum, Miss Defries writes-: “About five years ago I began to encourage and criticize her work. I think you will agree she shows great promise”. It is an intriguing possibility that the subject of our painting is Amelia Defries herself. CAT. 15 Oil on canvas, signed & dated ‘42 15
The Temple Church Ablaze
BRIAN MONTAGNOL GILKS (1902-67) 16
Burning of the Knights Templar Church in the Temple CAT. 16 Oil on canvas, signed. Exhibited: Fireman Artists Exhibition, Royal Academy 1941. No.17
Safe in the Shelter
PERCY HAIGH (1893-1966)
Safe in the Shelter CAT. 17 Oil on canvas, signed, dated 1940, and inscribed verso. 17
St Paulâ€™s after the Blitz CAT. 18 Oil on canvas, signed and dated 1941 18
St Paul’s After the Blitz Images of the Blitz and its aftermath have now become familiar and sanitised - the backdrop for popular films and the inspiration for cosy patriotic slogans - but the devastation caused by the Luftwaffe bombing between September 1940 and May 1941 was shocking and unprecedented. The apocalyptic horror of the actual bombing and the almost unrecognisable landscapes it produced, faced artists with an overwhelming visual challenge. After 57 nights of consecutive bombing, the Luftwaffe’s assault stopped as suddenly as it had begun. 59 year old Gibb was one of those artists allowed to paint and draw in the ruins, choosing as his subject that totem of the City’s survival, St Paul’s.
HAROLD ELRINGTON GIBB (1882-1967)
WOMEN OF THE BLITZ FELIKS TOPOLSKI (1907-89) One of the most inspired of Kenneth Clark’s wartime commissions was to assign - at the onset of the London Blitz - the job of recording ‘life in London during air-raids’ to the quicksilver pen of Feliks Topolski, arguably the greatest draughtsman of WWII. The four drawings displayed here derive from the sketchbooks Topolski carried with him as he trekked around the West End recording everything he saw, often during air raids (he was almost blown up in Soho while sketching). Topolski sketched with such facility and speed that his subjects seem unaware of his existence, a fact that gives his drawings a fly-on-thewall immediacy and air of unposed reality. As an Official War Artist, Topolski had exceptional access to the hidden subterranea of London life as well as its fractured surface: the bowels of the Criterion Theatre, Nurses and Sailor, Middlesex Hospital, 1940 CAT. 19 Pen on blue paper 20
requisitioned during the war by the BBC as an emergency studio, the Middlesex Hospital, an ATS guardroom. What he witnesses there is not necessarily high drama or â€˜eventsâ€™ but simply the extraordinariness of everyday life as it was lived in this cataclysm in our national life. Our focus here is on women and Topolski catches women catnapping, chatting, clustering around an oil lamp - capturing both their quotidian humanity and the glamour conferred by their uniforms.
ATS Guardroom at Night CAT. 21 Pen and brown ink on cream paper
Bar at the Dorchester (nurse from the American Hospital in Britain, 1940) Pen and wash on cream card
In the Dressing Room in the Criterion Theatre at Night, September 1940 CAT. 22 Blue ink on cream paper 21
Launching the Blimps
ROBIN WALLACE R.A. (1897-1952) Robin Wallace’s expansive oil painting of barrage balloons being launched on London’s South Bank is an exhilarating tour de force. Across the river, almost obscured by the detail of the scene is St Paul’s, the epicentre of the cultural and symbolic battle against the Luftwaffe. A team of balloon operators, some identifiably members of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF), winch a newly inflated balloon from a pontoon into the air. In the background, an already launched balloon is clearly tethered to a Thames barge. The painting is dated 1941 and the presence of women indicate that it was painted some time after May, when women were first introduced into the balloon crews. This replacement was the cause of some resentment among the male crew members, who felt a certain amount of embarrassment that their tasks could be duplicated by women. The level of detail in the picture is impressive: in the foreground, a female fabric cutter is engaged in the making of sandbags for the temporary tethering of the balloons before they could be transferred to the barges and deployed in the Thames estuary, where they formed an effective defence not only against bombing raids but also against the targeted dropping of mines. The large scale of Wallace’s painting also allows the structure and purpose of the balloons to become apparent: the balloons were armed with a bomb and two parachute devices: one to slow down and disable snagged enemy aircraft and the other to render a balloon’s descent safe if it deflated.
WAAFs launching Barrage Balloons onto Thames barges CAT. 23 Oil on canvas, signed and dated 1941 22
WAAF Attributed to DAME LAURA KNIGHT WAAF Recruitment
Many talented artists, from Laura Knight to relative unknowns such as Tom Purvis and Pat Keely, produced some of the most of the memorable images of the Second World War, without receiving any credit for their work, which appeared on billboards nationwide, but without any signature or identification of any kind. The present drawing has been sent to a number of poster experts and, despite its family resemblance to many propagandist posters of the period, it is not thought to have made it onto a poster. It has not been possible to attribute the current drawing to Laura Knight with certainty, but what is undeniably true is that Knight - the most high profile woman artist employed to produce war art - produced numerous sketches for a variety of War Office purposes and the drawing is of the requisite quality. Clearly it was intended as the prototype for a recruitment poster for the WAAF but again, the poster it relates to was either not produced or is not known to the specialists we have consulted.
WAAF Recruitment Graphite 24
ISOBEL ATTERBURY HEATH (1908-89)
Corporal Baron, Dental Clerk Orderly, RAF Perranporth CAT. 25 Graphite
Aircraftwoman Bettie Usher, RAF Perranporth CAT. 26 Pencil
Squadron Leader Teddy Gummer, RAF Perranporth Pencil
CAT. 27 25
ELVA BLACKER (1908-84)
The Control Tower at Biggin Hill Elva Blacker was one of the most remarkable women artists of the Second World War, producing a record of life in a wartime fighter station that the RAF Museum website describes as ‘without equal’. At the outset of war, 31 year old Blacker already had considerable life experience, having run her father’s photographic studio in her early 20s, between graduating from the Regent Street Polytechnic (where she studied photography) and studying at the Slade. In 1939, she drove vehicles for the Blood Transfusion Service, but was later called up for service and joined the WAAF. During her time in the WAAF, she produced a record of life at the Fighter Station at Biggin Hill that is remarkable both in terms of its comprehensiveness and quality. Much of the work survives in the collection of the RAF Museum, so works in the private domain have a particular rarity value. Blacker’s oils have a thick impasto and impressionistic use of colour that make them instantly recognisable; they manage to be both accurate records of person and place, but also lively and vivid. In this picture of a relatively relaxed control tower in the latter stages of the war, a mixed group of RAF personnel, including ground crew (in leather working jerkin) survey a fleet of Dakotas, probably belong to 168 Squadron R.C.A.F (Royal Canadian Air Force). The extraordinary level of detail recorded: every minutiae, right down to the layout of the maps of the runways, and the individual portraits of the servicemen, make this a uniquely precious – and affectionate - piece of social record. 26
The Control Tower at Biggin Hill CAT. 28 Oil on canvas, signed and dated 1945 27
‘They’ll make good wives after the war” said an RAF sergeant as he sniffed the smell of steak & kidney pudding issuing through the open door of the Cookery School ‘
PHYLLIS PEARSALL née GROSS (1906-96) WAAF serving Airmen CAT. 29 Pen 28
“They’ll make good wives after the war” said an RAF sergeant as he sniffed the smell of steak & kidney pudding issuing through the open door of the Cookery School. WAAF recruits learning to prepare the mid-day meal for the station (which they will have to eat themselves).
WAAF Officersâ€™ Mess CAT. 30 Pen 29
EVACUATION LILY HOLSFIELD (fl.1940s)
Evacuee Children in Country Kitchen Ten children and a middle aged man in what looks like a Home Guard uniform sit at a large dining table in a substantial country kitchen, while a woman busies herself cooking at a range. The children, some though perhaps not all, are evacuees and sit on a makeshift collection of benches and chairs. They formed part of a seismic movement of people displaced by the war. In the first three days of the official evacuation, one and a half million people were moved. The impact of evacuation on small rural communities was enormous. One small rural village in Devon with a population of under 1,000 was obliged to take 140 evacuees and four teachers - from schools in Stepney and Edmonton. A committee visited every house in the village to assess how many children could be accommodated and, although settlement was often voluntary, in this case, it was compulsory. Host families were given a 10 shilling allowance per evacuee. Such was the strain on the local education system that teaching had to be provided in shifts.
Evacuee Children in Country Kitchen Oil on canvas
CAT. 31 31
The Transfiguration of War Rosemary Rutherford, like her contemporary, Stanley Spencer, found intense spirituality in the unlikeliest of wartime situations. “Everything I see is manifestly religious” commented Stanley Spencer in his notebooks about the Clyde shipyards, when he was sent there in 1940 to record shipbuilding subjects by the War Artists’ Committee. The same was true for wartime artist Rosemary Rutherford, who found spiritual transcendence in the strangest of places during the war: in emergency operating theatres, gun emplacements and shipyards alike. Rutherford was, like Spencer, an unusual mixture of religious visionary and artist. Trained at the Slade, and the daughter of a Church of England vicar, she was motivated by a desire to do good, useful work, both as an artist and as a volunteer nurse. Even before she joined up as a VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) Nurse for the Red Cross, she had assisted her father at his church, St Mary’s Broomfield, in Essex with the resettlement of refugees. 32
Rosemary, post-war, with Cedric Morris and Lett Haines
Like Spencer, Rosemary also found spiritual significance in the unlikeliest of places. In 1943, she was stationed at Westcliff-on-Sea on the Essex coast and obtained permission to sketch in a boatyard producing a variety of small naval craft, such as motor torpedo boats. In what can only be described as visionary drawings, she presents an extraordinary, transcendental portrait of what she saw as the underlying meaning of the very practical scene in front of her eyes.
CAT. 32 Graphite
In the first of a pair of wonderful drawings, the ships’ carpenters and labourers are presented initially as real workers, going about their many tasks shaping the hull of a real boat. the second, the figures, still in their original places begin to acquire an obviously spiritual dimension, the ship’s hull becomes an Ark, or even the nave of a place of worship. The workers’ real tasks meld into roles less specifically related
Boatyard Transfigured Graphite
to the actual business of boatbuilding; all the scenes that Rosemary witnessed during her time as a nurse begin to elide together: some appear to be wearing operating theatre scrubs and the beams of the hull take on the appearance of a ribcage. It is an extraordinary work of imagination and transcendence worthy of the comparison with Spencer.
ROSEMARY RUTHERFORD (1912-72)
Rutherford’s portraits of the refugee children, usually oil sketches or gouaches on paper, have an arresting quality. Strikingly large and colourful, the subjects seem dislocated, with a faraway look in their eyes; their clothes – possibly recently acquired by charitable means – seem awkward: slightly too big and ill-fitting. They are immensely touching. For Rosemary, however, as well as the actuality of need and the meeting of that need through charitable work, the suffering of these children and their displacement by an evil regime had an obviously spiritual resonance. This very real event happening in front of her eyes was to Rosemary an expression of the eternal significance of the Christian story. Sometimes, the comparison between present suffering and religious art is more directly expressed: with a refugee mother and her child presented as a Madonna.
Sailor in Hospital Blues plays Church Organ Watercolour 34
Refugee child Watercolour
Refugee Mother and children CAT. 36 Watercolour 35
LOUISA EMILY (‘LOUIS’) THOMSON N.S; S.G.A; W.IA.C (1883-1962) Louisa Thomson was born in Ceylon and studied at the Royal Academy Schools and later in Paris and Rome. She exhibited widely at the Royal Academy and elsewhere, always styling herself ‘Louis Thomson’, possibly to disguise her sex. During WWII, by then in her 50s, she produced a series of watercolours of nursing subjects. It is not clear exactly what is going on in this picture. It is not a conventional ward, as some of the nurses are wearing their outdoor capes, suggesting that perhaps the casualties have been recently brought in from outside.
Red Cross nurses at work Watercolour
CAT. 37 37
“I’m sorry that you’ve come to draw us when we’re down in the basement rather than in our usual wards” said the hospital matron. “But that is what I come for” I said.
PHYLLIS PEARSALL née GROSS (1906-96) Recent Casualties Housed in a Basement Ward CAT. 38 Pen 38
Pearsall was impressed by the fact that the world of nursing seemed to take war “in its stride”. She described wartime nursing as “like some enormous standing army, so completely organised and well-equipped”
Hospital Laundry room
CAT. 39 Pen 39
“The bottle was empty and the baby was put into its cot, and seemed tinier than ever”
The ‘HMS Black Prince’ Cot CAT. 40 Pen 40
“The hammers used for banging pegs into holes were chiefly used on each other’s heads”. Everyday life in a wartime Day Nursery.
The Day Nursery CAT. 41 Pen 41
FACTORIES The majority of women who volunteered or were called up went into factory work, which meant everything from the manufacture of uniforms and camouflage equipment to the precision engineering of shells, fuses and even aircraft, tanks and fighting ships. Many female artists who volunteered their services were sent to these places and their responses were as varied as the factories and as individual as the artists themselves. Isobel Heath, who recorded a camouflage works in Penzance, was fascinated by the landscapes and atmosphere of factory work. Pegaret Keeling, who would later become a distinguished fashion expert, revelled in precise and touching details of the women themselves and the way they dressed, while Phyllis Pearsall saw herself as a kind of visual journalist.
ISOBEL ATTERBURY HEATH (1908-89)
Nets ready to be dyed - Camouflage Works Watercolour 42
“The visual aspect of these occupations is strange and baffling to the outsider” Cecil Beaton, writing about War Production
Cutting Tapes to Sew on Commandos’ Vests - Camouflage Factory Watercolour
Woman Arc Welding, Camouflage Factory CAT. 44 Watercolour 43
‘An Eye for Fashion’ PEGARET ANTHONY née KEELING (1915-2000)
‘Miles Away’ CAT. 45 All but one of the women recorded in this deft and colourful watercolour of a wartime uniform factory are busily engaged in the task in hand, but one – the youngest and most fashionably dressed - takes a moment to stare into the middle distance. Is it simple boredom or a mind elsewhere for other reasons? 44
In later life, Pegaret Anthony would become one of the leading experts
on costume design, designing for film and theatre, as well as training a generation of costume designers at the Central School of Art & Design.
In 1942, the unmarried 26 year old Pegaret Keeling, as she then was, wrote to the War Artists’ Advisory Scheme, offering her services as a war artist, and asking for facilities to produce war pictures. She was granted
Planning Production – ‘Typists in the Office’ CAT. 46
What could have been a rather grim scene of monotonous clerical work is relieved by Keeling’s astute and understanding eye for hairstyle and clothing. The professional hairstyles and smart blouses are affectionately recorded, without patronising generalisation.
permission to produce images of life in clothing and munition factories,
which she duly did. The committee were impressed by her work and bought two of her watercolours (a collection that was added to sixty years later, when the Imperial War Museum bought 14 more).
The four examples showing here form part of the 1942 roving commission and are very similar in style and content to the examples in the IWM.
‘Close work – Finishing touches’ CAT. 47 Five, mostly elderly women, apply expert finishing touches to uniforms. An atmosphere of comfortable and companionable concentration is deftly captured.
‘Comfy Shoes for Working’ CAT. 48 Keeling is a master of the understated detail. A notably glamorous machinist – her blonde hair restrained in a snood, is wearing a pair of comfy court shoes to work in. A pair of more elaborate ‘going out’ shoes are parked neatly under her work station. More serious clutter was severely frowned upon: a notice on the wall from the ARP warden states ‘These Doors Must be Free’. 45
‘Every Fuse Kills a German’ PHYLLIS PEARSALL née GROSS (1906-96)
Dome & Body Room Pen 46
Dome & Body Room
General Assembly Room CAT. 50
“Every fuse you make kills one German”
“We find the girls work better if allowed to chat”
In the dome and body shop of the Blackburn Fuse Factory, the strongest women were chosen to cut out and shape the dome and body of the fuses. Written on the wall was a notice ‘Every fuse you make kills one German’ under which someone had added ‘Or makes a hundred Italians run’”
The wide space down the centre of the room became an impromptu dance floor in the lunch hour with loudspeakers providing the music.
Testing the Tiny Wheels Pen
The Press Pen
Overalls and Splash Caps Pen
Spraying Base Pieces With Lacquer CAT. 54 “You’ve no idea how wonderful our girls are” the superintendent said. “I was told that they would only be good enough for machines of the simplest sort but I’d back them to do any of the jobs in this whole factory”. Spraying the base pieces of prepared fuses with lacquer prior to assembly. A home-made notice attached to the table reads ‘WC & Co 1939. ‘Scuttle Hitler’.
CIVVIES DAME ETHEL WALKER N.E.A.C; A.R.A (1861-1951)
Ethel Walker was one of the most distinguished portrait painters of her day, but was not included in the roster of artists producing work for the war effort. Kenneth Clark set out the War Artists’ Committee’s view as follows: “The War Artists collection cannot be completely representative of modern English art, because it cannot include those pure painters who are interested solely in putting down their feelings about shapes and colours, and not in facts, drama and human emotions generally.” Walker was listed as one of those ‘distinguished painters’ who would, in their view, be better employed continuing to do what they were best at. In Walker’s case, this was producing sensitive and thoughtful portraits, which she continued to do with mounting success. Walker was elected ARA in 1940 and appointed DBE in 1943. Most of her models were drawn from the Robin Hood’s Bay area of the North Yorkshire coast (their number included a young Barbara Hepworth).
Girl in Wartime Oil on canvas 48
DEIRDRE GHILCHIK (fl 1940s) Ghilchik was the daughter of Punch illustrator and social satirist, David Ghilchik. For a time, they shared a studio in Shepherds Bush. Ghilchikâ€™s elder sister, Sybil, was a VAD nurse (see photo of her being painted by Deirdre below) but at the time this was painted (1941) she was still too young for call up.
Photo courtesy: Associated Newspaper/Solo Syndication.
Wartime still life CAT. 56 Oil on board, signed and dated â€˜41 49
GERALD LESLIE BROCKHURST R.A; R.P; R.E. (1890-1972) The Image of Glamour
Brockhurst’s list of sitters was stellar, from Marlene Dietrich and Merle Oberon to Wallis Simpson and John Paul Getty, all attracted by the debonair artist’s ability to crystallize their essence – be it beauty or an impression of power and wealth – into an image of timeless glamour and stature, like so many pinned butterflies in the ultimate specimen collection. Brockhurst’s pictures have a palpable, if enigmatic, sexual allure, but it is not a sexuality of flesh and blood, rather one of idealisation and detachment. Brockhurst’s method of painting a portrait was to begin with the corner of one eye, with the physiognomy of the face having pre-eminence over the figure and background, which have a complementary but subsidiary relationship with the main thrust of the portrait, which is the face and, most particularly, the gaze.
Portrait of a Woman c.1940 Oil on canvas 50
In the Fields and the Village Halls
FRANKLIN WHITE (1892-1975) White took leave from his job teaching drawing at the Slade School of Art for the duration of the war, staying at home in Shoreham, Kent â€“ then very much at the heart of the Battle of Britain. Shoreham formed the backdrop of most of his work, including this beautifully drawn wartime scene of village women and children at a wartime fundraiser. Villagers in Shoreham engaged in wartime fund-raising CAT. 58 Pen, ink and watercolour 51
Conflicting Reports Pen
Sewing for Victory 52
CAT. 60 Pen
“I used to go to the pictures every evening and do you know I haven’t missed it at all”.
PHYLLIS PEARSALL née GROSS (1906-96) Girls on the Land Pen
Phyllis noticed the positive effect of farm life on the girls’ appearance: “the colour on their cheeks was not the result of an application of rouge but a healthy life in the open air”.
WILLIAM DRING R.A; R.W.S (1904-90) Dring was a full time lecturer at Southampton School of Art when war broke out but was given a commission to record Admiralty subjects, particularly portraits. In 1943, he accepted another, more roving commission and this drawing probably dates from that period.
"At first we thought the Wrens would be a bally nuisance but now we don't know what we'd do without them". Wren using Identification Telescope 54
CAT. 62 Pen
PHYLLIS PEARSALL nÃ©e GROSS (1906-96)
Wren Officers help new recruits with form-filling Pen
Wren at Work
CAT. 64 Pen
Wren Drawing Office
CAT. 65 Pen 55
De-eyeing Potatoes 56
CAT. 66 Pen
“At first we thought the Wrens would just be a bally nuisance...but now we don’t know what we’d do without them” said the steward. “But I’ve got to watch my step with them. Talk about cooks being temperamental – you ought to see some of the flare-ups we get.”
Wren Officer with Long-haired Dachshund Pen
Wrens in Galley Kitchen
CAT. 68 Pen 57
Officers Mess – HMS Excellent “The Officers Mess was a magnificent room, where tea was being served by Wrens in white coats”
Officers Mess - HMS Excellent Pen 58
Phyllis Pearsall’s tour of HMS Excellent had been delayed by an air-raid: “as I emerged from the shelter, my heart dropped at the sight of a twenty four feet crater within 15 yards of us”.
Wren cooks at work - slicing Haddock
CAT. 70 Pen 59
7 Years of
HOLDING THE LINE
Holding the Line September 2012
Holding the Line 2010
Holding the Line October 2011 60
Holding the Line November 2013
On-line Exhibition 2014
WOMEN AT WAR
Holding the Line November 2016
Holding the Line September 2014
Holding the Line November 2015 61
Artists’ index Gerald Leslie Brockhurst 50 Elva Blacker 26-27 Alfred Egerton Cooper 11 William Dring 54 Deirdre Ghilchik 49 Harold Elrington Gibb 18-19 Brian Montagnol Gilks 16 Percy Haigh 17 Isobel Heath 25, 42-45 Lily Holsfeld 30-31 Pegaret Keeling 44-45 Eric Kennington 12 Dame Laura Knight 24 Phyllis Parker 13 Phyllis Pearsall 6-10, 28-29, 38-41, 46-47, 52-53, 55-59 Rosemary Rutherford 32-35 Ellen de Streuve 14-15 Louisa Emily (‘Louis’) Thomson 36-37 Feliks Topolski 20-21 Dame Ethel Walker 48 Robin Wallace 22-23 Franklin White 51 Ralph Young 15 63
Acknowledgements Ann Ball Nicola Beauman Steve Berger, A-Z Map Company Ltd Patrick Bogue Holly Carter-Chappell Dr Gill Clarke R.John Croft Katherine Field Peter Garwood Peter Geiringer Colin Gibb Alf Holliday Desmond King Ben Mawdsley John Noott Nicola Pollock Christine Riding Andy Simpson, RAF Museum Susan Standring Suzy Topolski Teresa Topolski Melanie Vandenbrouck Ian Weston Jenny Weston
Photography Matthew Hollow
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Women at War