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Link to original content: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/04/02/blitz-paintings-could-not-grim-research-reveals/
WW2 painters were banned from portraying Britons as scared, research has found

WW2 painters were banned from portraying Britons as scared, research has found

Artists who painted the wartime destruction of Britain were under orders not to depict frightened people

Blitz paintings commissioned by wartime officials were forbidden from being “too grim” and censors insisted on a “stiff upper lip”, new research has revealed..

The War Artists' Advisory Committee commissioned almost 6,000 striking works depicting British life in the shadow of German bombers.

Artists lived through the chaos, some served as firemen quenching the flames they painted, and one was killed by the V1 rocket which featured on his canvases.

But they were subtly expected to beautify the Blitz, and no dead bodies were ever painted, nor was blood ever seen.  

One female artist, Frances Macdonald, was told by censors that frightened faces depicted during an air raid scene would not do, and she was instructed to repaint the work with more stoic British expressions.

“It was that stiff upper lip,” said Suzanne Bardgett of the Imperial War Museum, who has led new research into Blitz art in London.

“She had painted an air raid and submitted her painting.  There were frightened looks on people’s faces, as you can can imagine.

“The censors weren't happy with it.  She was asked to tone it down.”

Her painting of a Millbank Hospital air raid was one of 5,570 paintings commissioned by the WAAC, which was run by the Ministry of Information.

Correspondence has revealed that one of its top committee members, E.M.O'R. Dickey, urged artists to ensure their work was not “too grim”.

The more than 400 artists involved were given largely free reign, and even allowed into top secret sites vital to the war effort.  

But as part of this effort, their varied paintings were curiously devoid of the demoralising blood and death which would have been commonplace in the attacks which killed 40,000 people.

Ms Bardgett said: “The knew what they were doing, what their job was, and often the artists were chosen because their style fitted the subject.”

These artists were strictly British, according to Ms Bardgett's work, with emigre talents from Nazi-occupied Europe not deemed “appropriate” for commissions.  

Those that did paint were threatened by the same dangers as their subjects, and often served as nurses or firefighters while depicting the destruction and determination around them. 

Mulberry harbours being constructed, secret factories, raging fires, and huddled Londoners stoically enduring the ravages of war were all captured by the army of wartime artists. 

The painted records of everyday life during the Second World War have been drawn together in a new book from the Imperial War Museum, featuring 82 of the historic works focused on conflict in the capital.

Wartime London in Paintings by Suzanne Bardgett is available from April 9 

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