Saturday, 9 May 2015

Book Review: "Images of the Great War" by Lawrence Dunn, published by Austin Macauley Publishers Ltd., London, 2015

In his book "Images of the Great War 1914 - 1918", Lawrence Dunn, an artist from Sunderland, guides us through a brief history of the First World War featuring a selection of images by some of the British and Empire artists, cartoonists, poets, photographers and sculptors of the time -  paintings, drawings, illustrations and photographs, many of which are from the author's own collection.  With the skill that only an artist has, Lawrence encourages us to have a closer look at some of those works and in so doing brings the conflict to life as never before. In many instances, Lawrence also invites the reader to compare the styles of artists who have painted the same view or person. I understand that this is the first Art History book about this subject which includes all the official British female war artists, alongside their male colleagues, rather than in a separate book about them.   This point was raised by Norah Nelson-Grey to Lady Norman, when she offered her first painting of the French military hospital to the Imperial War Museum in 1918. Nelson-Grey insisted that her painting was not exhibited in a female artists only exhibition (Illustration No. 262 in book).

I particularly liked the fact that First World War poetry is added in between each artist featured, creating a bridge to the next artist. 

Female artists, sculptors and photographers of the First World War are also featured in this wonderful book, where you will also find portraits of some of the most influential and inspirational women of the war and mention of others, such as Flora Sandes, Mabel St. Clair Stobart, Mairi Chisholm, Elsie Knocker, Lady Dorothie Fielding, Lady Priscilla Norman,Princess Helena Victoria, Ellen Terry, Mrs Norrie, Dame Maude McCarthy and Miss R.L. Linton-Orman.

In the chapter featuring photographer Olive Edis on page 194, it is wonderful to see a photograph of Betty Stevenson's grave (page 196, illustration no. 185) being tended by a member (during WW1 that was the female equivalent of a Private) of the WAAC.  Betty was a volunteer with the YMCA and worked in France until she was killed during an air raid near Etaples on 30th May 1918 (see my blog on 3rd March 2014 about Betty). 

Beginning with Lady Elizabeth Butler, you will find women artists featured in the book, for instance, Olive Mudie-Cooke, Flora Lion, Anna Airy, Elizabeth Kemp-Welch, Norah Nielson-Gray, Clare Atwood, Joyce Dennys, Clare Atwood, Dorothy Josephine Coke and photographer Olive Edis.

I already knew the names of most of the female artists and quite a few of the male WW1 artists that Lawrence has included but there were many that were new to me.  I was interested to see that Lawrence has dedicated the book to his second cousin, Corporal Michael Davison of the Northumberland Fusiliers (1st Tyneside Irish).  Michael was an underground putter at Ryhope Colliery when he enlisted in 1914 and was killed on the first day of the Battle of Arras - Easter Monday, 9th April 1917.  My great-uncle James Yule was a Private in the Northumberland Fusiliers, 23rd (Tyneside Scottish) Battalion and he too was killed on 9th April 1917, as were the poets R.E. Vernède and Edward Thomas,  

Summing up, artists of all disciplines are represented in the book - painters, cartoonists, photographers, sculptors and so on.  But this book is not just about the artists, poets and pictures of WW1, Lawrence goes into detail about some of the battles and includes personal stories about the artists and the areas and subjects depicted.   On page 137 you will find paintings by the artist William Patrick Roberts, who was at the Battle of Arras on 9th April 1917 and is therefore of special interest to me.

I have written up panels for some of the female poets featured in Lawrence's book for the Female Poets section of my exhibition project. In "Images of the Great War" you will find poems by Beatrix Brice Miller who went to France in 1914 as a 'lady helper' with her mother who was a trained nurse, Jessie Pope who was a volunteer at St Dunstan's Home for the Blind (now Blind Veterans UK) and whose poetry these days I feel has been misunderstood, Lucy Foster Whitmell, Vera Brittain who was a nurse during WW1, Lady Margaret Sackville, Iris Tree, Winifred Mabel Letts, who was a masseuse/physiotherapist with the Almeric Paget Unit during WW1, May Wedderburn Cannan, who helped out at the Coffee Stall on Rouen station, Anna Gordon Keown, Alice Meynell, Katharine Tynan, Elinor Jenkins, Muriel Elsie Graham, May Hershel-Clarke, Mary H.J. Henderson, Eileen Newton, Emily Orr and Doprothy Una Ratcliffe.

Incidentally, I have also written panels up for some of the male poets from Lawrence's book under the heading "Forgotten Poets of the Great War". In Lawrence's book you will find poems by Laurence Binyon, Rupert Brooke, John McCrae, Charles Hamilton Sorley, Alan Seeger, Thomas Kettle, Isaac Rosenberg, Francis Ledwidge,  Edmund Blunden and Edward Thomas.  Also featured are poems by Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen but they don't need to be on the Forgotten Poets list…

If I had to choose one picture by a female artist, it would have to be an old favourite of mine "The Ladies' Army Remount Depôt, Russley Park, Wiltshire, 1918" by Lucy Kemp-Welch and one by a male artist would be "Merry-Go-Round" by Mark Gertler. If I had to choose a poem written by a male and one by a female poet, I would choose "Vlamertinghe Passing the Château, July 1917" by Edmund Blunden, who was a 2nd Lieutenant with the Royal Sussex Regiment, and "An Incident" by Mary H.J. Henderson, who was a VAD with the Scottish Women's Hospitals.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and would highly recommend it.

"Images of the Great War" by Lawrence Dunn, published by Austin Macauley Publishers Ltd., London, 2015.