Art Term

War artists

War artists are artists who are commissioned through an official scheme to record the events of war

Bob and Roberta Smith, ‘Make Art Not War’ 1997
Bob and Roberta Smith
Make Art Not War 1997
Tate
© Bob and Roberta Smith

In Britain official government-sponsored schemes were established for artists to record both the First and Second World Wars. The Imperial War Museum has continued to commission artists to record the events of war in more recent conflicts. As well as providing fascinating documentation of war time activities and events, much of the work produced by war artists is also interesting and important as art.

First World War

During the First World War, two main streams of activity produced official war art. The Imperial War Museum, established by Act of Parliament in 1917, was given the task of collecting all kinds of material documenting the war, including art. Meanwhile, the government was also commissioning and purchasing art to create a record of and a memorial to the war through paintings commissioned from the best and, on occasion, the most avant-garde, British artists of the day. These included Wyndham Lewis, Paul Nash, Chistopher Richard Nevinson, John Singer Sargent, Sir Stanley Spencer and Sir William Orpen. At the end of the war these collections were combined at the Imperial War Museum.

Second World War

During the Second World War a more structured approach to official picture collecting was taken when the War Artists Advisory Committee, chaired by Sir Kenneth Clark, was established. As in the previous war the pictures collected were exhibited in London and in shows touring nationally and internationally. In 1946, after the war had ended, one third of the collection was allocated to the Imperial War Museum and the rest was distributed to museums and galleries across the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth. Over 300 artists had been commissioned by the War Artists Advisory Committee, including John Piper, Graham Sutherland, Henry Moore, Paul Nash and Stanley Spencer on the home front; and Anthony Gross, Edward Bawden and Edward Ardizzone overseas.

Later conflicts

The Imperial War Museum continues to commission war artists to record wars in which Britain is involved. Artists commissioned have included Linda Kitson (Falklands War), Peter Howson (Bosnian Civil War), and Langlands & Bell (Afghanistan conflict).

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selected artists in the collection

selected artworks in the collection

war artists at tate

Tate Liverpool Exhibition
Tate Britain Exhibition
Tate Britain Exhibition