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26 January 2017
“Long terraces of houses remained: they were great – surprisingly wide – perspectives of destruction seeming to recede into infinity and the windowless blocks were like sightless eyes.” – Graham Sutherland
The Museum of London’s latest exhibition, Perspectives of Destruction: Images of London, 1940-44, explores how artists and photographers responded to the devastation of great swathes of the city by the intensive aerial bombing attacks during the Second World War.
The artwork, much of it commissioned by the government’s War Artists Advisory Committee, focused on damage to buildings rather than death and injury which might have affected public moral.
The exhibition centres around nine recently acquired drawings by official war artist Graham Sutherland, which depict the structural damage inflicted on the City of London and the East End between 1940 and 1941. On display for the first time at the Museum of London, these pieces were acquired thanks to the generous support of Art Fund and the ACE/V&A Purchase Grant Fund.
Also conveying the extent of the devastation is a 1941 oil painting of Christchurch on Newgate Street by John Piper, who was commissioned to depict bombed churches, and unofficial war artist David Bomberg’s ‘Evening in the City of London’ from 1944, which shows St Paul’s Cathedral dominating the horizon above a devastated Cheapside.
Despite heavy bombing, St Paul’s escaped serious damage and became a symbol of hope for many people. A photograph of the famous landmark being narrowly missed by a V-1 flying bomb also features in the exhibition. The image, alongside eight others, was taken by City of London Police Constables Arthur Cross and Fred Tibbs, who were tasked with recording bomb damage to help the rebuilding of the City.
The exhibition also includes Henry Moore’s drawing ‘Women in a Shelter’ and photography by Bill Brandt and Bert Hardy which reveal the destructive effect the Blitz had on Londoners’ daily lives. Seven photographs by Brandt, one photographer commissioned to document life in temporary air raid shelters to encourage the USA to join the war effort, were taken at underground stations across London from 4-12 November 1940. Three images by Picture Post photographer Bert Hardy capture firefighters at a warehouse fire near Blackfriars Bridge on 11 January 1941, “one of the most frightening nights of [his] life”.
Finally, a six-minute video interview with Dr Sara Wasson, academic and author of ‘Dark London: Urban Gothic of the Second World War’, reflects on the implications of the imagery featured in the exhibition.
Francis Marshall, senior curator of paintings, prints and drawings at the Museum of London, said:
“After the Great Fire of London, the Blitz is arguably the second most destructive event to have happened to our capital. This collection of paintings, drawings and photographs really brings home the large-scale devastation that London suffered, particularly in the east, as well as the inevitable emotional toll that this had on Londoners. Nowadays we’re more accustomed to seeing destruction on this scale in other locations that it’s easy to forget it was on our own doorsteps only 75 years ago.”
Perspectives of Destruction: Images of London, 1940-44 is on at the Museum of London from 27 January – 8 May 2017. Further information: www.museumoflondon.org.uk
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