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Contemporary War Artists: Introduction

A study guide to the work of Linda Kitson, John Keane and Peter Howson

The three artists covered by this guide were all commissioned by the Museum's Artistic Records Committee to record contemporary conflicts. Linda Kitson went to the Falklands, John Keane to the Gulf and Peter Howson to Bosnia. These commissions and subsequent exhibitions of the artists' war work provoked substantial press reaction and promoted a new awareness of the existence of war artists. The Department of Art now receives regular enquiries about these artists from A-level and undergraduate students. This guide gives the basic information about the three artists and their commissions and details of the reference material available to visitors to the Print Room

Background: the Artistic Records Committee

The Artistic Records Committee was established by the Imperial War Museum in 1972 to fulfil a perceived need for records of contemporary conflicts in which British forces were engaged. Ken Howard was the first artist to be commissioned and was sent to Northern Ireland in 1973 and 1977. Throughout the 1970s commissions were given sporadically on such subjects as life on board HMS Broadsword, air-sea rescue and an Air Day at the Museum's Duxford Airfield.

The early eighties saw more foreign commissions: Anthony Eyton went to Hong Kong and the New Territories, Patrick Procktor went to Belize and Paul Hogarth drew the British Army in Berlin 20 years after the erection of the Wall. The Women's Services were also comprehensively covered by Maggi Hambling, Jane Stanton, Eileen Hogan and Boyd and Evans. The late Ray Walker was commissioned to cover Army Recruitment in 1981 and produced a powerful triptych with pointed references to Northern Ireland. Patrick George painted an Early Warning Radar Station in East Anglia. 1982 was something of a watershed, when the ARC appointed Linda Kitson to sail with the Task Force to the Falkland Islands.

'Counting the Cost' by Renato Niemis
There was no slowing of the Committee's activities during the remainder of the decade with a wide range of commissions covering military exercises in Germany, nuclear submarines, military computers, war graves on Crete, the Boeing aircraft factory in Seattle, military tailoring at Moss Bros., building Challenger tanks at the Royal Ordnance Factory and shipbuilding at Devonport Dockyard. The ARC marked the destruction of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War by commissioning Jock McFadyen to go to Berlin in 1990.

A memorial sculpture in glass, Counting the Cost by Renato Niemis, was commissioned for the American Air Museum Duxford in to commemorate the American airmen based in Britain who lost their lives during the Second World War.

The commissions of Kitson, Keane and Howson were not 'one-offs' but should be seen within the context of the ongoing work of the Artistic Records Committee.

More about  Linda KitsonJohn Keane and  Peter Howson