London's Burning: Life, Death, and Art in the Second World War

London's Burning: Life, Death, and Art in the Second World War

by Peter Stansky
     
 

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During the First World War, the most important British works of art inspired by war were the poems and paintings of young artists whose lives were at risk in battle. During the Second World War, when the Blitz made civilians in London and elsewhere almost as vulnerable as those at the front, it could be argued that the greatest artistic achievements were by civilian… See more details below

Overview

During the First World War, the most important British works of art inspired by war were the poems and paintings of young artists whose lives were at risk in battle. During the Second World War, when the Blitz made civilians in London and elsewhere almost as vulnerable as those at the front, it could be argued that the greatest artistic achievements were by civilian artists. This book examines, from a historical and cultural perspective, the rich outpouring of art in Great Britain during the war years. It does this through a close study of the lives and wartime work of the sculptor Henry Moore, the documentary filmmaker Humphrey Jennings, and the composer Benjamin Britten. It was difficult for Henry Moore, already an established sculptor, to continue his work under wartime conditions. Supported by the War Artists Advisory Committee, he was commissioned to do a series of drawings of people in bomb shelters, most often the underground stations of London. These masterly works, at once eternal and of the moment, vividly evoked the determination of the British people to endure, and to preserve their humane values. Toward the end of the war, building on these drawings and in his first return to sculpture, Moore created what the authors consider his masterpiece, the Madonna and Child in St. Matthew's Church, Northampton. Many other artists were supported by the War Artists Advisory Committee, and the authors briefly examine the work of Paul Nash, who created what may be the single greatest British painting of the war, Totes Meer (Dead Sea), and Graham Sutherland, with his grim bombscapes - stark and semi-abstract depictions of the dreadful damage suffered by the City of London. Fires Were Started, a recreated documentary film of the Blitz directed by Humphrey Jennings, related with quiet humanity the story of 24 hours in the life of a fire-fighting group. Without naming the enemy, it provided a rich sense of the values Britain was fighting for, and demonstrated how or

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Sculptor Henry Moore, composer Benjamin Britten and filmmaker Humphrey Jennings are the focus of this absorbing, vivid study on how British artists responded to the exigencies of WW II. Moore, in his drawings of underground shelters in London's subways during the Blitz, captured the humanity of ordinary people. His sculpture Madonna and Child (1943-1944) is ``a statement of the values for which the war was professedly being fought,'' assert Stansky, a Stanford history professor, and Abrahams, an editor who has his own imprint at Dutton. They apply the same formulation to Britten's opera Peter Grimes (1945), interpreted here as a statement about the preservation of individual rights and tolerance of nonconformity. Fires Were Started (1942), Jennings's documentary film portraying a day in the life of a fire-fighting squad, celebrates the quiet heroism of civilians resisting German bombings. The authors, who collaborated on The Unknown Orwell , are also interesting and informative in discussing painter Graham Sutherland's bombscapes and Paul Nash's Totes Meer , an allegorical painting symbolizing the defeat of Germany's aerial invasion. Illustrated. (July)
Library Journal - Library Journal
Historian Stanksy and writer Abrahams here examine the promotion of art in wartime Britian and the impact of war on artists and their public. This is not a comprehensive study but a look specifically at sculptor Henry Moore, painters Paul Nash and Graham Sutherland, documentary filmmaker Humphrey Jennings, and composer Benjamin Britten. All except Britten received support from the War Artists' Advisory Committee and made direct use of war themes in their work. The relationship of the war to Britten's opera Peter Grimes is more problematical and is treated at length. Not essential for small collections, this work may interest cultural historians in several disciplines. Larger collections should consider it.-Nancy C. Cridland, Indiana Univ. Libs., Bloomington

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780804723404
Publisher:
Stanford University Press
Publication date:
05/28/1994
Pages:
201
Product dimensions:
6.60(w) x 9.46(h) x 1.01(d)

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