Jan Gordon (1940) on "War Fancies in Paint"
The first picture exhibition inspired by the war at the British Art Centre, Stafford Galleries, St. James's Place, London, W. has two notable features. The first that the subject was imposed on the artist; that is to say, as in older times, the painters were all asked to work deliberately to the theme, they had something for their imaginations to bite on, and were not merely following free fancy. The second is the title, "The War As I See It."
The result is a curious paradox. Although few of the paintings can be called entirely successful, they constitute nevertheless a collection more interesting in lots of ways than would have been a normally successful everyday show by the same artists. It is a collection in which many of the artists, strongly moved to express something of the war that they have not seen but have felt spiritually all about them, have reached out beyond what almost might be called the complacency of their normal range. Well-known or rising artists, such as Raymond Coxon, Kenneth Wood, Rudolph Sauter, Michael Rothenstein, Topolski, Dora Crockett, Mariette Lysis, and others have been keyed up to an unwonted pitch, and the tensity can be experienced through their works.
This creates in these small underground galleries, themselves reminiscent of a dug-out, a vibrant atmosphere. But outstanding for its noble simplicity is Mervyn Peake's expressive nude, "They Called For Me and I Came," for directness of statement Keith Baynes's "Les Tirailleurs Chargent," and John Armstrong's "Revelations," and for compositional felicity Charles Murray's "Mutual Thoughts," which interlocks images of a trawler at sea and the man's wife in her room. Among the younger artists, A. H. Andrews. Maeve Gilmore, Elizabeth Spurr, Prunella C. Taylor, J. G. Simon and Helen M. George are notable.