Bunker Archaeology

Patrick Caulfield, ‘Greece Expiring on the Ruins of Missolonghi (after Delacroix)’ 1963
Patrick Caulfield
Greece Expiring on the Ruins of Missolonghi (after Delacroix) 1963
© The estate of Patrick Caulfield

The ruination of war has interested artists for centuries; in 1654, shortly after the English Civil War, Henry Gibbs painted the burning of Troy. The conflicts of the twentieth century brought destruction on such a scale that it seemed the picturesque idea of ruin might prove inadequate to describe the resulting wreckage. In 1953 the novelist and critic Rose Macaulay wrote that these ‘new ruins’ might never attain the aesthetic distance of classical or medieval remains. But even in the midst of conflict many artists returned to the historic idea of ruin lust in order to understand or come to terms with the aftermath of modern warfare.

Out of the First and Second World Wars came images of the new forms of destruction visited on buildings, streets and landscapes. Artists such as John Piper and Graham Sutherland painted the resulting ruins, and portions of wartime infrastructure live on in works by Jane and Louise Wilson. Ruins from the wars of the twenty-first century include the prison walls discovered in Iraq by Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin.