A child's war: the First World War sketchbooks of Frank Hinder

Art Gallery of New South Wales

From the National Art Archive, Art Gallery of New South Wales

The child artist
Frank Hinder (1906-1992) was one of the most inventive Australian artists of the twentieth century. He is best remembered for his experiments with abstraction, colour and movement, which were inspired by cubism and futurism. Hinder also played an important role as a camouflage officer in the Second World War. However, it was another war that first captured his artistic imagination. Hinder was only eight years old when the First World War broke out. The images of the war in Europe being sent back to Australian shores obviously fascinated the young boy, and he filled sketchbooks with drawings of ships, castles, zeppelins and tanks. We can steal a glimpse of life on the home front from the subjects that captured Hinder's imagination. Many of his drawings bring to mind the 'boys own' adventures of popular fiction. However, he also depicted famous ships from the Royal Navy and the Royal Australian Navy, drew the newfangled armoured vehicles appearing on the battlefields and copied the medals and flags of Britain and its allies, all of which he probably saw printed in newspapers and periodicals. The following drawings come from two of Hinder's childhood sketchbooks, which he made between the ages of nine and eleven. They were donated to the National Art Archive at the Art Gallery of NSW in 2006 by his daughter Enid Hawkins. 

'Come on my men'


HMAS Melbourne was a light cruiser in the Royal Australian Navy commissioned in 1913. It took part in some of Australia’s first wartime victories by helping to capture German Pacific colonies.

The AE2 was one of two submarines commissioned into the Royal Australian Navy in 1914. In 1915 it successfully navigated the Dardanelles into the Sea of Marmara, but was damaged and scuttled by its crew.

The ship in this drawing bears the Islamic crescent moon and star as well as the Jolly Roger flag!

These cartoons resemble the satirical drawings of Australian periodicals such as 'The Bulletin'.

"Did your doctor treat you?"
"No, he charged me five guineas."

The HMS Lion was the lead battlecruiser of her class in the Royal Navy. It served in the Grand Fleet and participated in the battle of Jutland, the largest naval battle of the First World War.

The white flag with blue stars resembles the Australian White Ensign, used by the RAN from 1967. In WWI RAN ships used the British White Ensign. Hinder probably found it hard to draw white stars on blue.

The order of merit was established by King Edward VII in 1902 for distinguished service in the armed forces, science, art, literature or culture. There may only be 24 living recipients at one time.

A theory of universal dynamism
As an adult artist Hinder developed an interest in the depiction of form, movement and speed. His work in this area followed the experiments of the cubists and futurists, whose work he first encountered while studying in America in the 1920s and 30s. The futurists' use of aeroplanes, cars and trains as a motif to convey the physical experiences of modern life struck a particular chord with him. While in the US, Hinder embraced American artist Jay Hambidge’s theory of 'dynamic symmetry', in which he proposed a system of proportions underlying all living things. This had a profound effect on Hinder, who said 'if you can link into the actual so-called life rhythm in your work then I think you are getting a little bit closer to the universal, whatever-it-is, that makes us tick'. 
A modern man for modern war
During the Second World War, Hinder served as a camouflage officer with the Australian Department of Home Security. His role was to develop methods of concealment and deception for military equipment as well as civilian sites. This was the perfect role for an artist interested in the depiction of movement, space and colour. He explored the science of optics using model aircraft and vehicles to experiment with deceptive patterning. This was a radical new field that drew criticism from some quarters as an 'unmanly' approach to warfare - Hinder joked that he had been ‘transferred to the Dept. as a ‘camofleur’ or ‘camopansy’ as we called ourselves’.
Bomber crash
In 1941 Hinder was attached to the Australian Imperial Force in New Guinea. On a supposedly routine reconnaissance mission to assess the camouflage of an airfield near the town of Rabaul, his Lockheed bomber crashed on takeoff. He recorded the experience of it in his diary: 'Roared up runway – seemed to take long time to get the tail up … getting close to end of field … lot of noise and racket, tried to protect head and face waiting for next bump and crash. Came to rest and flames shot up all round … Before door opened wondered what it would be like to be incinerated'. He later made sketches of the incident and in 1943 painted this work, in which he attempted to synthesise the twisting of the destroyed fuselage with the white hot heat and light of the engulfing flames.        

Hinder made this drawing towards the end of the Second World War. The silhouetted plane is the ultimate vision of speed, and a fitting icon for a boy once enamoured by machines.

Art Gallery of New South Wales
Credits: Story

Written by Andrew Yip.
Produced by Andrew Yip and Steven Miller

All artworks© Estate of Frank Hinder

© Art Gallery of New South Wales

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