Conscience and Conflict: British Artists and the Spanish Civil War
- Laing Art Gallery |
- 7 March – 7 June 2015
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The first major exhibition to examine how British artists responded to the Spanish Civil War.
The bloody battle between the elected Spanish republic and a rebel group of Nationalists was one of the most important conflicts of the 20th century. The Nationalist-commanded bombing of civilians in Guernica – immortalised in Picasso's iconic work – was one of the first campaigns by Nazi Germany's Luftwaffe and reactions to it revealed the divisions between right- and left-wing groups in Europe. These ideological clashes were responsible for the outbreak of the Second World War just a few years later.
Coinciding with the 75th anniversary of the battle's end, the exhibition draws on works by Henry Moore, Edward Burra, Wyndham Lewis and Roland Penrose in order to explore how visual artists in Britain responded to events in the Mediterranean. United in the fight against facism, artists from across disciplines and practices became engaged with the conflict; either fighting in the war themselves, providing work for fundraising campaigns or creating independent pieces that made fiercely critical statements.
On display are 80 such examples from this period, including painting, printmaking, design, textiles, sculpture, photography and film. Many have not been shown in public for several decades.
The exhibition also sheds light on the role female artists played in the conflict. Paintings of refugees Ursula McCannell – now 91 – produced when she was just 13 are displayed alongside her source photographs. Meanwhile a series of drawings by artist Felicia Browne, who was the first British volunteer to die in the war, capture Republican soldiers and Spanish peasants affected by the conflict.
Thanks in large part to the Surrealist artist Roland Penrose, Picasso's Guernica travelled to the UK in 1938 and toured to venues around the country. The display explores the impact its exhibition had on the British perceptions of the war, as well as its influence on artists depicting associated subject matter.
An undoubted highlight of the show is Picasso’s Weeping Woman (acquired for Tate with Art Fund support in 1988). The artist made several subsidiary paintings based on figures in the Guernica mural, this one – focused on the weeping woman holding her dead child – is the last and most elaborate of the series. The woman's features are based on Picasso’s lover Dora Maar.