1914 - 1918

Putting Art on the Map

Imperial War Museums

Imperial War Museums hold one of the largest collections of First World War Art in the world. Putting Art on the Map has been crowdsourcing this collection, inviting members of the public to add new information, stories and contextual data to enrich the artworks. 

Through social media, online crowdsourcing tools and live events around the UK, Putting Art on the Map has engaged the help of many different people, from knowledgeable amateur historians to art enthusiasts and retired professionals with expert technical knowledge. Their contributions have enabled the artworks to be put back into the landscape, connected with the people and events depicted and linked with a wealth of other material, from contemporary images to historical records. Putting Art on the Map has been supported by the Digital Research & Development Fund for the Arts - Nesta, Arts & Humanities Research Council and public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.

‘Over The Top’ by John Nash, brother of Paul Nash, is one of very few officially commissioned works depicting a specific action. The painting commemorates the 1st Artists’ Rifles involvement in an attack on the morning of 30 December, 1917, at Welsh Ridge, near Marcoing (south west of Cambrai). Of the 80 men in the unit, 68 were killed or wounded during the first few minutes.

The artist John Nash (1893-1977) was one of the 12 to be spared death or injury and painted this oil on canvas, including a self-portrait, three months later.

Though the work is a stylised version of events, research and contributions by the public identified that the attack took place at the end of Central Avenue Trench, enabling us to re-contextualise this artwork in the French landscape. 

Members of the public shared a whole range of materials to help identify this location, from First World War trench maps to an image of the painting superimposed over today’s landscape. You can follow all the clues and detective work here: https://storify.com/Historypin/john-nash-over-the-top

Location: 50.095903, 3.164985

London born Anna Airy (1882-1964) trained at the Slade School of Art, a student contemporary of fellow war artist William Orpen. She was one of the first women war artists employed by the newly founded Imperial War Museum in 1918.

The Munitions Sub-Committee of the Imperial War Museum, which commissioned Anna Airy, imposed strict terms on her contract of employment including their right to refuse a work and not pay for it. She successfully painted four large works for the Sub-Committee, each representative of a typical scene at a munitions or armament factory.

We shared this work on social media to try and find out where in Hackney Marshes the factory was. 

On Facebook, Diana Zanon traced the location to an area of grassland on the western bank of the River Lea in the London Borough of Hackney. The exact location of the factory was confirmed by Simon Smith on Google + who shared a photo of the factory in the 1920s from Britain from Above (http://www.britainfromabove.org.uk/image/epw005749).

On Twitter Maurice Nicholson @kellsmk responded by telling us that between 1915 and 1922, 37.5 acres were taken from Hackney Marsh for the Government War Department's National Projectile Factory manufacturing munitions. Later the area was cleared to provide Mabley Green Recreation Ground, which remains a large open playing field today. 

Location: 51.554294,-0.033483

When the First World War broke out, John Lavery (1856-1941) began recording scenes at military camps, naval bases and munitions factories. Appointed an official war artist in 1917 and assigned to the Royal Navy, one of Lavery's duties was to paint the surrender of the German Fleet at Rosyth (Fife).

In 1919, Lavery received a commission from Lady Priscilla Norman, chairman of the Women's Work Committee at the Imperial War Museum. She wanted Lavery to record the work of women in the Red Cross and other organisations in France before they were disbanded. Lavery completed 12 paintings of women's war work in Boulogne, Dieppe, Etaples, Le Havre, Rouen and Le Touquet, selling them to the Committee for 1,250 guineas - half his normal price.

We explored this work with postal and telecommunication specialists at the British Postal Museum and Archives. They noted the striking resemblance to the photographs within the BPMA’s own collection of Army Letter Office No.2, Regent's Park in 1918. The similarity of the structure in this IWM work and BPMA photographs led to a conversation about whether these temporary depots were actually laid out as a standard, repeatable structure.

The system of sorting mail depicted in both the IWM and BPMA works was identified as standard by the specialist group. Using IWM's zoom tool to enlarge detail images the group identified that the mail was being sorted into sections including ‘Artillery’ and ‘POW’ - take a look at the black signs above the desks.

John Hodgson Lobley's (1878-1954) work offers a record of facial reconstruction operations performed at Queen Mary's Hospital, Sidcup, during the First World War. 

Lobley captures the interior of an operating theatre with two operations in progress. In the left foreground a patient is being operated on, surrounded and obscured by three medical staff dressed in white gowns, face masks and caps. In the right background another operation is in progress, with five medical staff gathered around the patient. A nurse is standing by the door in the background to the left.

Location: 51.42619,0.111433

When we explored this work with retired surgeons, at the Gordon Museum of Pathology, they highlighted the tall, south-west facing windows which would let plenty of light in and identified the anaesthesia method to be the double tube method using a shipway (a bottling system for warming anaesthesia).

After the live event the archivist from the Gillies Archive, Sidcup, shared photographs which also show the interior of this operating theatre.  

The comparison of the two is striking: not only can you see how faithfully Lobely captured the space, but the painting actually offers us more historical information. The photograph was a staged scene and neither captures the activities that took place in the operating room or the colour of the scene.

It is only from this painting by Lobley that we know two operations took place at once – no contemporary photographs record this.

In 1917, Harold Septimus Power (1877-1951) was appointed an official war artist with the rank of honorary lieutenant and attached to the 1st Division Australian Imperial Force (AIF). Power worked in France from September to December 1917. He was commissioned for a second time from August 1918 to March 1920 and then contracted on commissions for the Australian War Records Section until 1938.

This loosely painted, impressionistic work generated particular interest among enthusiastic and knowledgeable members of the Royal College of Nursing. Two participants were former Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps nurses and were able to confirm from personal experience that the painting was a realistic scene – you would have needed about this number of people to load a train with injured men.

The group corrected the IWM’s caption stating that the nurses depicted are both QAIMNS (Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service) nurses and from their uniforms we can tell that they were in fact reserve QAIMNS nurses.

William Orpen (1878-1931) was commissioned into the Army Service Corps as a second lieutenant in March 1916. Under the war artist's scheme, in January 1917, he was given the rank of major and in April arrived in Amiens, France.

Orpen was only the second war artist to be appointed, after Muirhead Bone, and he was employed full time to record the conflict. Orpen was engrossed by the war, moved by the soldiers he met, impressed by the industrial scale of operations and fascinated by its ever-changing light and form.

Several of William Orpen’s works hang in the Boardroom at IWM London, and we invited members of the public to look at the real works and collaborate to see what connections could be made between the works.

In the spring and summer of 1917, William Orpen painted the battlefields of the Somme, sometimes at places that had been captured only a short time earlier. Participants at the live event connected this painting with a passage in Orpen’s memoir 'An Onlooker in France' (1921) in which he recalls that he portrayed the destruction of Thiepval during a short visit in 1917. Theipval was held by the Germans in 1916 and it is likely that this painting depicts the destruction caused during the Battle of Thiepval Ridge (26-28 September 1916).

Location: 50.054316,2.689437

Brothers Sydney (1888-1929) and Richard Carline (1896-1980) were employed as official war artists by the Imperial War Museum during the First World War, each tasked with documenting aerial warfare.

In 1916, Sydney Carline joined the Royal Flying Corps and received his commission as a pilot. Through fellow war artist CRW Nevinson, Sydney Carline had come into contact with Futurism and was thrilled by the experience of flying and the transformation of the landscape when viewed from the cockpit. Richard Carline also joined the Royal Flying Corps towards the end of the war. In 1919, both brothers were posted to the Middle East as official war artists.

Between 1918-1920, the Carline brothers produced dozens of artworks recording views over the Western Front, the Middle East and the Italian Front. In this work Sydney Carline depicts an aerial view of the Asiago Plateau with the Italian Alps in the upper background. The view looks down onto an Italian village with a tall tower and a road running towards the centre of the image.

On social media we sought to identify the Italian village in the landscape. We had several responses including suggestions of Asiago, Tresche' or Arsiero. After comparing the church towers, we relocated this image to Arsiero. You can see the full conversation here: https://storify.com/Historypin/artmap-ww1-aerial-images.

Location: 50.054316,2.689437

In January 1916, 26-year-old Olive Mudie-Cooke and her sister Phyllis went to France with the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY). Mudie-Cooke drove ambulances for FANY and later the Red Cross. Her watercolours from this time show the work of medics and the landscapes of the Somme and Italian front.

In 1919, Olive Mudie-Cooke was commissioned by the Imperial War Museum’s Women Work Sub-Committee to depict the British Red Cross Voluntary Aid Detachments in France.

This watercolour on paper shows a view across the large tents of a military camp on the Italian coast, with the buildings and a church spire of Genoa in the background. 

The work is one of many that the project has re-inserted into the contemporary landscape by overlaying it on Street View on Historypin.com, you can see how little the scene has changed (http://bit.ly/1iuf55P).

Location: 44.40565,8.946256

In April 1918, while serving in Macedonia, Stanley Spencer (1891-1959) was approached by the British War Memorials Committee to execute a painting under commission. The Committee’s offer was made on the recommendation of fellow war artist, Muirhead Bone. This work was one of many required to line the walls of a grand Hall of Remembrance intended for central London. The Hall was never completed and its collection was given to the Imperial War Museum.

The work is based on Stanley Spencer’s experiences in the Royal Army Medical Corps serving with the 68th Field Ambulance. Spencer began the work in January 1919, recollecting his memory of an Advanced Dressing Station established to cope with the anticipated casualties from the attack on Machine Gun Hill in September 1916. Spencer found an unusual and striking viewpoint, seen from a high vantage point, a fan shape of stretchers span out from a brightly lit operating theatre.

On social media we were interested in finding out the name of the flora Spencer includes in the bottom right of the painting. Twitter user @TheWildHogg suggested it was Macedonian oak (Quercus trojana). Native to southeast Europe and southwest Asia, from southern Italy east across the southern Balkans to western Turkey it is a small to medium-sized tree reaching 10 to 20 metres in height with broad grey-green leaves with a coarsely serrated margin.

Flora Lion (1876-1958) was commissioned by the Ministry of Information (MoI) to complete two works depicting factory scenes and was given special access to factories in Bradford and Leeds. 

In this oil on canvas the interior of the Phoenix Works canteen is filled with women workers who queue for food, sit and chat.

The two women in the centre, arms entwined, dominate the scene and embody the confidence of women employed in vital war work. These women represent the nearly one million women who worked in the munitions industry during the First World War. Women's contributions to the war effort began a seismic move towards equal rights that influenced women's lives in future generations.

We had a great response to locating the factory and contextualising this work on social media. Twitter user @RAFMitchell posted a link to a photo on Britain from Above (http://www.britainfromabove.org.uk/image/epw034062) showing an aerial view of the factory that located it in Thornbury near Bradford. Google + user Simon Smith then helped to locate this even more accurately at the Phoenix Dynamo Manufacturing Company on Hubert Street, Leeds Road, Bradford - a ten-minute walk from his house. Meanwhile on Facebook, Kyle Johnson directed us to Graces Guide online which tells us that in 1917 the Admiralty contacted the company to construct a new flying boat around a monocoque hull designed by Lieutenant Commander Linton Hope and built by the Southampton chandler May, Harden and May.

Location:  45.79998,11.352031

Credits: Story

Guest Curator — Dr Alice Strickland

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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