Truth and Memory: British Art of the First World War

York Art Gallery

25 March – 4 September 2016

Free with National Art Pass (standard entry £6.75)

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Devised by IWM London, the largest exhibition of British First World War art for almost 100 years goes on display in York.

The exhibition is divided into two sections; truth, which explores how art was used as a means by which to document the experiences of war, and memory, focusing on its role in commemoration.

Historically war art reinforced British notions of morality and patriotism, but this was one of the first conflicts where serving soldiers were commissioned to produce depictions of their experiences on the front line. Their work would often be violent, bleak or despairing, providing a direct challenge to the established public perceptions of war.

On display are key examples from artists who were directly involved in the war effort, such as Paul Nash and CRW Nevinson. The latter worked as a medical orderly and ambulance driver in the First World War and committed what he saw in the trenches to paint. In these pictures he presents soldiers as a series of angular shapes, making the definition between human flesh and heavy artillery intentionally unclear.

The display's second half shifts focus to the plans made by the British War Memorials Committee and the Imperial War Museum to build an artistic record of the war in a Hall of Remembrance. Key commissioned paintings, such as John Singer Sargent’s Gassed and Wyndham Lewis’s A Battery Shelled are shown alongside sculptural works by Jacob Epstein and Eric Kennington’s studies for the Soissons Memorial to the Missing.

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George Clausen’s Youth Mourning, painted when in his sixties and after the death of his daughter's fiance in 1916, is in stark contrast to his previous work, which provided nostalgic impressions of rustic English life. The allegorical form of a young woman set against a desolate barren landscape, emphasises the rawness of grief and emptiness of death.

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