August 11, 2018
Eleanor’s Secret Inspiration
The Real Story
My interest in the role of war artists grew when I discovered how the fate of many British artists changed dramatically from the outset of the Second World War; with fewer artworks being bought, and less illustrations and lithographs for books and magazines, their livelihoods virtually disappeared. The War Artists’ Advisory Committee was set up with the stated aim to record the war, although it was well known that they were also protecting a generation of artists from the frontline. But amongst the four hundred artists on the scheme only a handful were women, and none that went to work overseas alongside the men. This was a total imbalance compared to other roles that women took on and I imagined there would have been women who wanted to; Eleanor quickly became one of them.
As well as the powerful artwork that was produced by the war artists, there was some very moving narrative that inspired me to want to write about the artists:
‘What did it look like? They will ask in 1981, and no amount of description or documentation will answer them. Nor will big, formal compositions like the battle pictures which hang in palaces; and even photographs, which tell us so much, will leave out the colour and the peculiar feeling of events in these extraordinary years. Only the artist with his heightened powers of perception can recognise which elements in a scene can be pickled for posterity in the magical essence of style. And as new subjects begin to saturate his imagination, they create a new style, so that from the destruction of war something of lasting value emerges.’