Exhibit: UK artists’ response to the SCW

September 10, 2014

This article appeared in the 37th issue of the newsletter of the International Brigade Memorial Trust and is reprinted here with the IBMT’s permission.

ArtWhilst British literature about the Spanish Civil War has been widely celebrated, the story of how artists responded has remained largely untold. From 8 November Pallant House Gallery in Chichester will present “Conscience and Conflict: British Artists and the Spanish Civil War”, the first major exhibition to examine the involvement of British visual artists in the Spanish Civil War.

The exhibition will reveal how a generation of British artists in the 1930s were drawn to engage in the conflict, either by going to fight in Spain in the case of artists such as Felicia Browne and Clive Branson, providing artistic manpower for relief campaigns or creating independent works of art that made fierce political statements.

The British artistic response to the Spanish Civil War crossed boundaries between abstract and realist artists, uniting diverse elements of the avant-garde in the fight against fascism. The exhibition will feature works by leading modern artists, including Henry Moore, Edward Burra, Wyndham Lewis, FE McWilliam, Roland Penrose, SW Hayter and John Armstrong, alongside works by Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró that inspired them, such as Picasso’s iconic “Weeping Woman”.

Eighty artworks

It will feature more than 80 artworks in a range of media, including painting, printmaking, design, sculpture, photography, film and textiles: the IBMT has generously agreed to lend the British Battalion banner made by members of the Artists International Association. It is the first time that many of these works have been brought together and some have not been shown in public for several decades.

A key theme will be political engagement in Britain, including the fundraising and awareness-raising exhibitions and events organised by the anti-fascist Artists International Associa- tion, such as “Artists Help Spain” (1936) and the “Portraits for Spain” scheme (1938).

Several artworks depicting political protests in Britain will convey the strength of feeling in Britain at the time, including International Brigader Clive Branson’s “Demonstration in Battersea” (1939) showing workers waving flags and banners in support of Spain and “May Day” (1938) by the Bloomsbury artist Quentin Bell, whose brother Julian Bell was killed in Spain whilst serving as an ambulance driver.

The exhibition will feature original artworks for the posters designed by British artists in support of the Spanish Relief Campaign: Felicity Ashbee, E McKnight Kauffer and Frank Brangwyn. It also considers the role of the British surrealists who published manifestos campaigning against the official British policy of non-intervention, calling for “Arms for Spain” and created macabre paintings and sculptures. Even Henry Moore designed the cover of surrealist manifesto “We Ask Your Attention” (1937) and a later print, “The Spanish Prisoner” (1939).

The exhibition also explores artistic responses to the plight of refugees of the conflict, particularly the Basque children, and the work of later artists such as RB Kitaj and Terry Frost’s abstract prints based on the poetry of Lorca.

The exhibition has been generously supported by the IBMT and there will be a programme of talks, tours and events. After Pallant House Gallery it will tour to the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle.

Simon Martin is the Artistic Director of the Pallant House Gallery [www.pallant.org.uk]. If any members of the IBMT have relevant artworks, photographs or ephemera or would like to support this exhibition email [s.martin @pallant.org.uk].