Battle of Britain

Paul Nash1941

Imperial War Museums

Imperial War Museums

Paul Nash's description of the painting, written for the War Artist's Advisory Committee: 'The painting is an attempt to give the sense of an aerial battle in operation over a wide area and thus summarises England's great aerial victory over Germany. The scene includes certain elements constant during the Battle of Britain - the river winding from the town and across parched country, down to the sea; beyond, the shores of the Continent, above, the mounting cumulus concentrating at sunset after a hot brilliant day; across the spaces of sky, trails of airplanes, smoke tracks of dead or damaged machines falling, floating clouds, parachutes, balloons. Against the approaching twilight new formations of Luftwaffe, threatening...'The painting majestically reveals the possibilities of art engaged with history. Its ambition and the scale of the setting immediately impress; we look down on a huge swathe of the English Channel and France beyond. Produced at the time of the battle, the painting encapsulates its scale and importance. However, this is not just an image of modern warfare, with its violence and destruction, or even an iconic victory; it is also a restatement of the value of art and the defeat of Nazism. Nash, a fierce critic of the way that fighting on the Western Front of the First World War had been conducted, was immediate and steadfast in his revulsion towards Nazi Germany and its culture. In the painting, defences rise up as if out of the very landscape of England to meet the fascistic machines of war; the regimented patterns of the Luftwaffe are broken and defeated by Allied fighter planes, they form great flower-like shapes in the sky, before plummeting into the very earth that has defeated them.Richard Seddon, pupil of Nash, viewed this work at Nash’s Oxford studio. He advised Nash to include more black smoke trails and painted an example on the canvas. When the painting was exhibited in London, Seddon’s black trail was still visible on the canvas. Margaret Nash presented Seddon with a 19th-century lithograph of a storm in Paris which Nash adapted to form the composition of the Battle of Britain.Nash delivered the work to the Committee in October and it went on display at the National Gallery in January 1942.

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  • Title: Battle of Britain
  • Creator: Nash, Paul
  • Date Created: 1941
  • Location: English Channel,  Kent, England, UK
  • related people or organisations: Royal Air Force
  • provenance: War Artists Advisory Committee commission
  • period: Second World War
  • Subject: aircraft accidents,  aerial view,  landscape,  artist's response,  action, Battle of Britain 1940,  Royal Air Force 1939-1945
  • Physical Dimensions: w1835 x h1226 mm (unframed)
  • Provenance: © IWM (Art.IWM ART LD 1550)
  • Type: painting
  • External Link: Imperial War Museum website
  • Medium: oil

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