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Early Aviation Art- the Great War
Examples of painters who depicted the aerial battles of the First World War during or immediately after the conflict.
pete hill (formerly Bunter)
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December 22, 2015 - 6:52 am
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The Great War 1914-1918 saw a number of painters from all participating nations attempt to portray the very new kind of warfare being fought in the skies. Some of these were official war artists appointed by their respective governments/war ministries charged with portraying their nation’s role in the conflict. Others were private artists who chose to depict the aerial campaign including a few who actually served in uniform during the war itself.

A common feature of these works is that these early aviation painters tended to place ‘art’ before technical detail. Many of these artists drew and painted aircraft with a freedom and sketchiness, not to mention a tendency to allow imagination to substitute for exacting technical detail, that would horrify many aviation artists of today.

When looking at these works, one needs to remember the circumstances of the time. In 1914 aeroplanes were a relatively recent invention and the experience of air travel was reserved for an intrepid few. Painters in the WW1 era had very limited access to technical information and visual references when it came to military aviation- even photographs of wartime aircraft would have been relatively scarce- unlike the 21st century aviation painter who can access countless sources of data at the click of a mouse. During WW1 relatively few people knew what the ground looked like at 10,000 feet or what camouflage schemes the other side’s aircraft wore. Most of these painters were not ‘aviation artists’ per sae, either- aviation scenes formed only a part of their oeuvre. There had been ‘genre’ painters before WW1- artists who chose to specialise on a certain subject matter- maritime, equestrian, military, wildlife etc but the idea of an aviation artist was something new.

pete hill (formerly Bunter)
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December 22, 2015 - 7:15 am
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Royal Aircraft Factory RE8 of No 3 Squadron Australian Flying Corps, France 1918. Watercolour by Arthur Streeton.

Arthur Streeton (1867-1943) was an Australian artist who in the 1880s had being one of the most famous members of the so-called ‘Heidelberg School’ of landscape and genre painters who had produced fresh new portrayals of the Australian landscape and rural life. Although often in-correctly referred to as an ‘Impressionist’ painter, Streeton worked with a painterly tonal-realist style that owed more to the ‘Barbizon’ School of French landscape artists in the 1850s. When the Great War began, he was one of the most successful painters in Australia, his career boosted by his own exaggerations of his achievements in Britain, appealing as it did to the upper-class Australians of the era who still referred to England as ‘home’. 

Streeton was living in Britain when the Great War began. Aged 48, he volunteered with the British Army Medical Corps and he worked as an orderly in military hospitals for three years, reaching the rank of corporal. In 1918, the Australian Government appointed him as an official war artist, charged with depicting the Australian army corps fighting on the Western Front. He produced a large number of watercolours (although he never mastered the medium) and later produced a number of large oils. Most of his work focused on the landscape and, more occasionally, the machinery of war. This was in part due to Streeton’s limited abilities in drawing figures.

Whilst visiting the aerodrome of No 3 Squadron AFC, one of three Australian squadrons that flew in France, Streeton produced a pair of watercolours of their RE8 aircraft.

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RE8 of No 3 Squadron AFC dismantled for repairs. Watercolour by Arthur Streeton.

pete hill (formerly Bunter)
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December 22, 2015 - 12:31 pm
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French soldiers surveying a crashed biplane, Somme 1916– Watercolour by E H Shepard. 

Ernst Howard Shepard (1879-1976) was a British artist, best remembered for illustrating the first editions of Winnie the Pooh and Wind in the Willows. However a much lesser known aspect of his work is the watercolour and ink sketches he did in his spare time whilst serving in the British army on the Western Front. 

By the time the Great War began in 1914, Shepard had already been working as an illustrator for eight years. Despite his artistic experience, he was never asked to be an official war artist. He served in the Royal Garrison Artillery and during the war he rose from the rank of 2nd-Lieutenant to Major, earning an MC for bravery under fire in 1917. Shepard’s drawing skills were put to use in 1916 when he was tasked with sketching the enemy positions within visual range of his battery. 

During quiet spells and when he wasn’t on duty, Shepard took the time to record his impressions of the war, producing a large number of pencil and watercolour sketches. These works were stored in a trunk shortly after the war and were not re-discovered until 2015. 

pete hill (formerly Bunter)
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December 22, 2015 - 12:55 pm
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Military Biplane Preparing to Start Up. – Watercolour by Ernst Vollbehr.

Ernst Vollbehr (1876-1960) was a German artist who had already commenced a successful career by the time the war started, as both a painter and a travel writer. Vollbehr travelled extensively, producing successful illustrations and articles from his experiences. His work was illustrative, resembling the style of travel poster art of the period. He was appointed an official war artist for the German army in WW1, producing over 1500 works depicting the war on the Western Front. Vollbehr’s work portrayed the war in an heroic light and many of his paintings were re-exhibited during the later Nazi era as idealistic depictions of duty and courage. 

After the Nazis gained power in Germany, Vollbehr was appointed again to be an official government artist, producing works that celebrated the architectural achievements of Hitler’s Germany. His work became a valuable propaganda tool and gained great popularity, even Hitler was a personal admirer of his work. After the Second World War, his career diminished rapidly, his work and reputation tarnished by his willing involvement in National Socialist Propaganda. 

pete hill (formerly Bunter)
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December 24, 2015 - 1:03 am
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British Nieuport Scout destroying an enemy biplane in Italy – oil by Mario Barberis

Mario Barberis (1893-1960) was an Italian painter, graphic designer and illustrator. Born in Rome, he was studying fine art in Turin when Italy joined the Great War in 1915. Barberis served in the Italian Royal Army Balloon Corps throughout the conflict and in his spare time did a number of sketches to record his experiences. This painting is owned by the Imperial War Museum in Britain.

In the early 1920s, Barberis produced illustrations for propaganda magazines and leaflets to promote the new Fascist movement in Italy although Barberis himself never became an official party member. Afterwards, Barberis devoted most of his subsequent life and career to producing religious paintings and frescoes and his later work became progressively more abstract in style.

pete hill (formerly Bunter)
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December 24, 2015 - 2:30 am
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Crashed Aeroplane– Watercolour 1918 by John Singer Sargent.

John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) was a famous realist painter who became one of the most popular and highly-paid portrait painters of the late 19th century. Born in the United States, Sargent lived much of his life in Britain and France. A tonal realist, Sargent achieved great commercial success in his lifetime but inwardly yearned to acquire more critical acclaim as well and he often felt frustrated by the cosmetic demands of his portraiture (the most sought-after of his work) which restricted artistic expression. However, Sargent disliked the new modernist movements of the early 20th century (and most modernists disliked him). 

Sargent was appointed in 1918 to be an official war artist and he produced a large number of water-colours depicting the closing months of the war on the Western Front along with several oils, the largest and most famous of which is Gassed (1919), a long horizontal canvas depicting a queue of injured British soldiers who have been blinded by poison gas.

 Crashed Aeroplane (1918) is a melancholy painting, depicting the wreckage of an aircraft (whose crew has presumably perished) and it now lies apparently forgotten in a field, the nearby French farmers paying no heed. Yet there is a sense of optimism too as the farmers reclaim the once-ravaged landscape and the crops will grow afresh, covering the debris of war. 

Of course in reality, the wreckage of an aircraft would not have laid undisturbed for very long. The air-force would have collected the remains for salvage, recycling it as spare-parts to repair other machines. Or else local peasants would have descended on the scene, stripping the canvas to make into sturdy curtains or aprons or even coverings for hen-houses, collecting the wood to heat their stoves and the wire to hang wet washing on. 

pete hill (formerly Bunter)
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December 24, 2015 - 4:42 am
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‘French Fighters’ – Watercolour by Francois Flameng 1918.

Francois Flameng (1856-1923) was a French painter who had a successful career in the late 19th century and in the pre-WW1 years. A painter in an academic realist style, Flameng received numerous commissions to produce portraits and large-scale romanticized history paintings which achieved considerable success in the notoriously conservative Salon exhibitions in Paris. 

Upon the outbreak of war, Flameng was appointed by the French war ministry to be an official war artist, tasked with depicting the French army on the Western Front 1914-1918. He produced a large number of watercolours and oils, many of the former done on the spot (‘plein-air’), rendered in a journalistic, illustrative tone. His depictions of the trenches were realistic but were, to a degree, sanitized with the more gruesome aspects of the battlefield usually smoothed over. Ironically, when first exhibited during the war, Flameng’s ‘trench-scapes’ were often criticized for being too unexciting and for lacking heroism for their depictions of ordinary soldiers and the more mundane aspects of life at the front. 

Flameng also produced a small number of aerial scenes, the best of which were based on sketches he did whilst visiting French air force aerodromes. 

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Breguet XIV-  Acrylic & Watercolour by Francois Flameng

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French SPAD shoots down a German plane– Acrylic by Francois Flameng

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Returning a SPAD to its hangar in bad weather– Watercolour by Francois Flameng

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Patrolling SPADs 1918 – Watercolour & Acrylic by Francois Flameng

pete hill (formerly Bunter)
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December 24, 2015 - 5:05 am
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Luftkampf  – Oil by Michael Zeno Diemer

Michael Zeno Diemer (1867-1939) was a German romantic/realist landscape & maritime painter who achieved considerable success in Germany in his lifetime. He is best remembered for his maritime works depicting classic tall ships with romanticized renderings of stormy seas and skies. Diemer also painted several large murals for museums and public buildings including a large work in Innsbruck in 1894 which measured over a 1,000 square metres, depicting a battle scene from the Napoleonic wars. 

Amongst WW1 air-war enthusiasts, Diemer is best remembered for his 1918 oil Luftkampf (Dogfight) depicting an LVG two-seater diving down to join a whirling dogfight taking place below between other German two-seaters and British aircraft over a murky, threatening wintry sky at either dusk or dawn. This work was the only large aviation oil Diemer produced depicting aerial combat in WW1 although he did a number of smaller ink & watercolour works, mostly portraying the role played by Zeppelins. These were published in magazines, journals or sold as postcards and lithographs during the war. 

Diemer’s son Franz flew as a test pilot in both World Wars, working for BMW and Dornier. 

pete hill (formerly Bunter)
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Von Richthofen’s Flying Circus– Oil by Claus Bergen (1918)

Claus Friedrich Bergen (1885-1964) was a German painter & illustrator who achieved considerable success during his nation’s late imperial era. After studying painting at Munich’s Royal academy of fine art under the instruction of noteworthy German painter Carl von Marr, Bergen began a career as a professional illustrator in 1907. One of his earliest commissions was to produce a mammoth 450 illustrations for Karl May’s popular adventure books. He also traveled extensively in the pre-WW1 years, producing numerous landscapes & coastal studies.

In 1914 upon the outbreak of war, Bergen was appointed to be Kaiser Wilhelm’s Marine Painter, charged with depicting the German navy’s campaigns. He produced a large number of canvasses on this subject. However during Bergen’s childhood, he had been good friends with the young Ernst Udet who became a famous fighter ace during the Great War (Bergen’s brother Otto also became an aviator during the war). This prompted Bergen to paint a small number of canvases depicting aerial combat. The painting of Manfred von Richthofen’s scarlet Fokker Dr.1 (above) was personally owned by Kaiser Wilhelm until his abdication. It was sold at auction in 2010 for over $9,000(US). 

After the Great War, Bergen continued to produce maritime paintings, along with smaller numbers of aviation scenes, including several of Ernst Udet’s exploratory flights in the 1920s and commissions to produce oils portraying the huge Dornier flying boats of the 1930s. Bergen joined the new National Socialists in 1922 and by 1937, he was an official artist of the new Nazi government. During the Second World War, Bergen was appointed again as a war artist, this time to produce paintings portraying the exploits of both the German Navy and the Luftwaffe. Bergen’s works proved highly popular in Germany and Adolf Hitler himself purchased one of his works. The artist was included in the ‘God’s Gifted’ list of people judged to be cultural assets for Germany and thereby exempt from military service. After Germany’s final defeat in 1945, Bergen’s work was judged by the Allies to contain no overt political or anti-Semitic themes and as a result he was not investigated for his associations with the Nazis. 

He spent his final years devoting his work to mostly landscapes and maritime scenes of the tall ship era. Bergen’s works were included in many collections in the United States and Great Britain and in 1964, the year of his death, many of his WW1 maritime paintings were reproduced in LIFE magazine.

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The Red Baron-  Watercolour by Claus Bergen (1918)- preliminary study for painting above.

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Ernst Udet in Combat–  Oil by Claus Bergen (1918)- b&w reproduction of original.

pete hill (formerly Bunter)
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December 29, 2015 - 2:20 am
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Downed Fokker – Oil by by Henri Farre 

Henri Farre (1871-1934) was one of the most prolific aviation painters of the Great War and he had the distinction of having experienced the war first-hand as an aviator himself. An aspiring painter, Farre was heavily influenced by the Impressionist movement of the late 19th century. Farre was living and working in Argentina when the war began in 1914.

Farre flew as an observer in the French air-force in a reconnaissance & bomber unit which operated the Voisin-III ‘Pusher’ two-seater, a type which features in many of Farre’s paintings of the era. Farre flew a number of sorties over the front during the Great War but from early in the conflict, he was also appointed as an official war artist. 

Farre termed his work ‘Aerial Visions’ and he has been called the first ever ‘aviation painter’ given that almost all of the work he produced both during and immediately after the war portrayed aircraft in combat. Farre painted in a free, painterly style, working in oils, watercolours and acrylics, the influence of the Impressionist movement clearly seen in his work. Although the responsibilities of his operational duties in the air-force took up much of his time, Farre’s rapid and prolific artistic output totalled over 250 works by the end of the war. 

Farre’s own experiences in the air gave his works considerable authenticity, especially in his cloudscapes and high-altitude renditions of the ground. Farre usually focused on the ‘mood’ and the light of the aerial scenes, less bothered with precise technical depictions of the machines themselves which are rendered in a much more painterly fashion than most of today’s aviation artists. 

As an observer/gunner, Farre had a narrow escape from death in the summer of 1916 over Verdun when he and his pilot’s Voisin were attacked from above by a German fighter. A French Nieuport fighter abruptly appeared from nowhere, shooting down the German plane in flames. The saviour turned out to be none-other than Jean Navarre, one of France’s most famous aces. Farre later went to Navarre’s aerodrome to personally thank him. However Farre’s gratitude was cooled somewhat when the war-weary Navarre bluntly admitted to having followed the Voisin for some time, using it as bait to lure a German fighter to add to his tally. 

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Death of Captain Fequant Plateau of Malzeville- Oil by Henri Farre

One of the specific incidents Farre portrayed was one that involved a comrade in his own unit. Captain Fequant, an observer, was standing up in the front cockpit, firing his weapon at a German Aviatik two-seater when he was hit by a volley of MG fire. Fequant was killed and his body slumped over the side of the cockpit, nearly falling out. The pilot, Sgt Niox, despite an injury to his own arm, was able to hold on to Fequant’s body with one hand and fly with the other, making it back to their aerodrome. 

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Falling German Plane– Oil by Henri Farre.

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Nieuport Diving to Attack- Oil by Henri Farre

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Voisin in Combat against a German Aviatik– Watercolour by Henri Farre

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Caudron G-III– Watercolour by Henri Farre

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Aerial Encounter– Oil by Henri Farre

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Voisins on their Aerodrome– Watercolour by Henri Farre

At the end of the war, many of Farre’s works were reproduced in a best-selling book: ‘The Sky Fighters of France: Paintings of Battles in the Air’. In 1919, a large exhibition of Farre’s aviation paintings was held in Washington DC, a show that featured 176 of the Frenchman’s works. The US Air-Force now owns 69 of Farre’s WW1 paintings, donated by Laurence Rockefeller in 1957. Many of them are now displayed in a new aviation art gallery at the Pentagon which was opened in 2010. Farre lived much of his later life in the United States and he became a US citizen. He died in Chicago in 1934.

pete hill (formerly Bunter)
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Downed Enemy Plane– Oil by Max von Poosch (1918)

Max Edler von Poosch (1872-1968) was an Austrian painter who depicted the grim war on the Austro-Italian Front. The son of an Austrian naval officer, Poosch studied art at both the Vienna Academy and later in Germany at the Weimar School. During the pre-WW1 era, he traveled extensively across Europe, studying art as he did so but he also completed several years of compulsory military service and he became an officer in the Austrian army reserve.

When war erupted in 1914, Poosch was soon drafted back into military service and he served for the first six months of the war as a battery commander in an artillery regiment stationed on the Eastern Front. In 1915, Poosch applied for the post as an official war artist and was accepted. Poosch was stationed in Albania in 1916, producing paintings that portrayed the Austrian Navy and then later spent time on the grisly and harsh Italian Front, completing works depicting both the conflict on the ground and in the air. 

His two most famous aviation paintings were the oils D3 Squadron over the Brenta Mountains (1917) and Downed Enemy Plane (1918), both now housed in the Heeresgeschichtliches (Military History) Museum in Vienna. The former portrays Albatros D-III fighters of the Austro-Hungarian Air-Force over the mountainous Italian Front where casualties from frost-bite, hypothermia and avalanches far outnumbered those caused by enemy fire. The latter depicts a crashed Italian Nieuport 17 fighter somewhere in the Austrian or Italian Alps, the body of its pilot sprawled beside the wreckage. The latter painting is a contradictory image, the peaceful beauty of the alps contrasting with the grisly scene in the foreground. Poosch’s painting appears sympathetic to the dead enemy pilot and the absence of most of the markings on the aircraft are perhaps intended to make the scene more universal, representing the dead airmen on all sides. The influence of German 19th century romantic painter Casper David Friedrich can be clearly seen with the melancholy mood and the human tragedy that is dwarfed by the beautiful yet sombre landscape. 

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D3 Squadron Over the Brenta Mountains (1917)- Oil by Max von Poosch

After the Great War, Poosch lived in both Austria and Germany, surviving Allied air-raids whilst living in Berlin during the Second World War. After the latter conflict, Poosch was commissioned by the Heeresgechichtliches in Vienna to repair 19th-century frescoes by Austrian military painter Karl von Blaas which had been badly damaged by Allied bombing in 1944, a task which occupied him for a number of years. He died in Vienna in 1968. 

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December 29, 2015 - 5:11 am
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The Last Flight of Albert Ball VC, 7th May 1917–  Watercolour by Norman G Arnold (1919)

Norman G Arnold (1892-1963) was a British war artist during the Great War but is today chiefly remembered for his extensive and highly successful career as an art director and set designer in the British Film Industry between 1920 and 1963. Prior to WW1, he studied architecture and interior design. A Lieutenant in the Royal Flying Corps during the Great War, Arnold was commissioned in 1918 to produce a series of water-colours for the war ministry’s official war art program. He was tasked with portraying the air-war over the Western Front. His most widely known painting was completed in 1919, portraying the final moments of famous British ace Albert Ball (above). 

Arnold’s depiction of Ball’s demise is somewhat fanciful as the cause of the young ace’s death on 7th May 1917 was not known at the time, although it was often (and in-correctly) assumed that he had been shot down by German ace Lothar von Richthofen who was the younger brother of the more famous Manfred (aka The ‘Red Baron’). Arnold portrays the scene as occurring in clear skies in bright sunshine with Ball, in his SE5 fighter, fighting valiantly to the last, with two German planes falling and trailing smoke whilst, to the right, a third German pilot dives away, having scored mortal hits on Ball’s aircraft. In reality, the action took place at dusk amidst dense cloud and Ball scored no victories in his last dogfight, although he may have damaged the Albatros fighter of Lothar von Richthofen who force-landed with a punctured fuel tank. The most likely cause of Ball’s death was that he became separated from his comrades and, flying through thick cloud, became dis-orientated and suffered an attack of vertigo, causing his aircraft to become inverted. According to eyewitnesses on the ground, Ball’s SE5 emerged from the low-lying cloud upside down and was too low for Ball to have time to recover before he fatally crashed. Needless to say, Arnold’s picture became highly popular and prints of it hung on many young boy’s bedrooms as they read of heroic tales of the aerial battles over France.

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How Captain Lionel Rees earned his VC, 1st July 1916– Water-colour by Norman G Arnold (1918)

Another water-colour (above) portrayed Captain Lionel Rees famous action in July 1916 above the Somme when he, single-handed, engaged a formation of ten German machines and destroyed two of them, damaged two others and lived to tell the tale, a feat for which he received the Victoria Cross.

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Bringing Home the Straggler-  Water-colour by Norman G Arnold (1918)

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Blind Spot– Water-colour by Norman G Arnold (1918)

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Sopwith Dolphin engages enemy Fokker– Watercolour by Norman G Arnold (1918)

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The Straggler – Watercolour by Norman G Arnold (1919)

Arnold completed his commissions for the war ministry in 1919. The following year, Arnold entered the fledgling British film industry and worked there as a set designer and art director for the remainder of his life. He was art director for well over 150 feature films and he was employed by a number of studios including Independent Films UK, Warner Bros. and Ealing Studios. Arnold completed work on his last feature shortly before his death in 1963. 

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Closing Up’– Oil by George Horace Davis (1919)

George Horace Davis (1881-1963) was a British painter, illustrator and technical artist. Born and raised in London, Davis studied at the Ealing School of Art. He served in the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War and shortly after the end of hostilities he produced a number of aviation paintings depicting aerial combat over the Western Front.

Closing Up, his most well-known work, depicts a unit of British Airco DH4 two-seaters under attack by German fighters in 1918. The minutely depicted aircraft are rendered in a near-naive fashion, hovering like toys in a vast sky. 

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Dogfight – Oil by George Horace Davis (1919)

Davis began working for the Illustrated London News as a resident artist in 1923, creating diagrammatic illustrations that depicted advances and new developments in technology and engineering. He remained on the publication’s staff until his death in 1963. 

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Dueling in Cloudland– Oil by George Horace Davis (1917)

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Putting Out His Eyes– Oil by George Horace Davis (1918)

pete hill (formerly Bunter)
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The Bombing of el-Afuleh Railway Junction – Water-colour by C R Fleming-Williams (1917)

Clifford Roger Fleming-Williams (1880- ? ) was a British serving officer in the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS), commissioned in 1914 as a 2nd-Lieutenant and ending the war with the rank of Major. According to military records, he remained in the Royal Air-Force until 1922 and he spent part of the war working as a flying instructor. Little information is known about the remainder of his life.

Fleming-Williams produced a number of water-colour & acrylic paintings depicting the operations of the RNAS during the Great War and these are now part of the art collection of the Imperial War Museum in London.

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An “OK” Bombing Chikaldir Bridge, 27th August, 1916– Water-colour by C R Fleming-Williams (1916)

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Sopwith Scout– Water-colour by C R Fleming-Williams (1916)

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Flying-Boats machine-gunning a crippled German submarine– Water-colour by C R Fleming-Williams (1918)

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Hit!- A Patrol of F2A Flying-Boats bombing a German Submarine– Water-colour by C R Fleming-Williams (1918)

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The Good Samaritan– Water-colour by C R Fleming (1917)

pete hill (formerly Bunter)
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The Bott Incident– Oil by Stuart Reid (1918)

Stuart Reid (1883-1971) was a New-Zealand born artist who lived much of his life in Scotland & Britain. During the Great War, he served with the Scottish Light-Horse, participating in the Gallipoli Campaign in 1915 before he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps and served in Sanai and Palestine. In 1918, he was officially commissioned to produce paintings that depicted the British aerial campaign in the middle-east during the Great War. 

Many of his oils portrayed specific incidents. The Bott Incident depicted the capture of South-African pilot, Lieutenant Alan Bott of No 111 Squadron RFC based in Palestine whose French-built Nieuport 23 was shot down by Turkish anti-aircraft fire on April 22nd 1918. Trapped in the cockpit of the upturned fighter, Bott was approached by Arabs intending to murder him and loot the aircraft but he was saved by the arrival of Turkish troops who took him prisoner. Bott remained a POW for the rest of the war and afterwards he became a successful magazine editor and book-publisher, co-founding Pan Books in 1944. 

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The Seward Exploit– Oil by Stuart Reid (1918)

On 24th March 1917, 2nd-Lieutenant William E L Seward’s Martinsyde G.100 was hit by Turkish AA fire whilst patrolling off the coast near Jaffa in Palestine. Seward deliberately ditched his aircraft near the shore to prevent it falling intact into enemy hands. Despite being under enemy fire from the nearby beach, Seward, an Olympic swimmer prior to the war, swam 25 miles in 4 hours towards the nearest Allied-held territory and then walked naked inland at night, sneaking through Turkish lines, until he reached a New-Zealand unit’s position. 

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Arab Welcome– Oil by Stuart Reid (1918)

Sherifan mounted troops excitedly welcome the arrival of the first Handley-Page 0/400 bomber to land in Palestine, arriving at Deraa on September 22nd, 1918. Reid was a friend of British adventurer and Arab-leader T E Lawrence who presented Reid with the gift of a cloak and ceremonial blade. 

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Bombing of the Wadi Fara– Oil by Stuart Reid (1918)

British aircraft bomb and strafe Turkish troops retreating through the Wadi Fara on September 20th 1918.

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The Ridley Tragedy– Oil by Stuart Reid (1918)

On June 15th 1917, two BE2Cs of the RFC were flying a patrol near Dakhla when one aircraft suffered a mechanical problem and had to force-land. The pilot of the other aircraft landed nearby and spent the night with the two crew of the first plane before he took off the following morning with the intention of bringing back a rescue party. Days later, a British armoured car unit arrived at the crash site, finding the aircraft but no sign of the two men. After a search that lasted nearly a week, the two aviators were found dead some distance away, the pilot having committed suicide with his revolver and the observer having died of thirst & exposure. Reid’s painting depicts the bodies having been found near their aircraft.

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Lieutenant McNamara Winning the VC– Oil by Stuart Reid (1918)

During a bombing raid on Turkish positions at Wadi Hesi, Palestine on March 20th 1917 by No 1 Squadron of the Australian Flying Corps, a BE2C was damaged by AA fire and forced to land in the vicinity of the target. Seeing his fellow pilot trapped behind enemy lines, Australian Lieutenant Frank McNamara, despite being wounded himself, landed his own aircraft, a Martinsyde G.100, nearby and took the other pilot on board. As the G.100 was a single-seat machine, the rescued pilot, Captain David Rutherford, climbed onto the wing. However his weight overbalanced the aircraft and McNamara, weakened with pain and blood-loss, could not keep control and the aircraft crashed shortly after take-off. Now both men were stranded and Turkish cavalry were seen in the distance approaching. McNamara and Rutherford desperately ran to the BE2C which, despite the damage, might still be flyable. Rutherford quickly performed some makeshift repairs to the engine whilst McNamara held off the Turks with his revolver. Rutherford started the engine as by now McNamara was too weak to swing a propeller and as there was no time to switch places, the latter flew the BE2 some 70 miles back to their base with Rutherford in the observer’s seat. McNamara was awarded a Victoria Cross. He survived his wounds and remained in the AFC which later became the Royal Australian Air-Force. He rose to the rank of Air Vice-Marshal in WW2.

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Handley-Page Aeroplane– Oil by Stuart Reid (1918)

A Handley-Page 0/400 bomber attacking Turkish positions at Nabulus in October 1918.

After the Great War, Reid became a successful landscape and equestrian painter. He died in Australia in 1971. 

pete hill (formerly Bunter)
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Fokker Dr.1 Triplane–  Water-colour by John MacGilchrist

John MacGilchrist (1893-1977) was a Scottish painter, etcher, architect & illustrator who had a highly successful career as an aviation artist in the 1920s but remains largely forgotten today. He was studying architecture in the United States when the Great War began and he immediately traveled back to his homeland, enlisting in the British army engineers. He joined the Balloon Corps as a pilot/observer, a hazardous duty as balloons were frequently shot down by enemy ground fire or aircraft or crashed due to accidents such as severed cables or punctures. MacGilchrist himself survived being shot down four times and he completed over 200 hours of airborne patrols, being the only observer of his original company to survive the war relatively unscathed. On the fourth time he was shot down (on this occasion by a two-seater white Fokker), MacGilchrist survived by a parachute descent which nearly carried him over German lines. 

After the war, MacGilchrist returned to the USA to resume his career as a architect but he also soon gained notice through his etchings of aviation scenes. He soon received commissions from leading industrialists and aviation firms to produce illustrations of the most famous planes of the 1920s. Famous aviator Charles Lindbergh was among the collectors of his work and his career peaked with a major exhibition in New York in 1930. However the Great Depression greatly reduced the demand for his work and his artistic career never recovered. Needing to survive financially, MacGilchrist abandoned his etching and painting and returned to architecture, working for the US Department of Reclamation from 1935 as an architectural engineer (the Hoover Dam was one of the projects he worked on). 

His aviation works were not re-discovered until decades after his death in 1977. 

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Battle Above the Clouds– Water-colour by John MacGilchrist

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Falling Fokker  – Oil by John MacGilchrist. 

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Sopwith Camels – Oil by John MacGilchrist

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The Loss of a German Observation Balloon– Etching by John MacGilchrist

pete hill (formerly Bunter)
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An Aerial Fight– Oil by Louis Weirter (1918)

Louis Weirter (1873-1932) was a Scottish artist, etcher, illustrator and graphic designer. He is perhaps best known for his etchings of architectural subjects and street-scapes and for his poster designs in the 1920s. However Weirter (who was born as Louis Whirter) also produced a small number of aviation paintings inspired by the Great War, bringing a uniquely whimsical , almost surreal style and mood to the aerial battles of that conflict.

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An Incident on the Western Front– Oil by Louis Weirter (1918)

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The Destruction of a Zeppelin – Etching by Louis Weirter

pete hill (formerly Bunter)
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Down for Repairs’– Oil by Fortunino Matania

Fortunino Matania (1881-1963) was an Italian artist & illustrator who lived much of his life and career in Britain. He is best remembered for his numerous and highly detailed illustrations of scenes of the Great War on the Western Front for British magazines and journals that were published both during and immediately after the conflict. Born and trained as an artist in Naples, Matania began working as an illustrator in Paris in 1901 at the age of 20. The following year, he was hired by the British magazine The Graphic to produce illustrations of the coronation of King Edward VII and his reputation quickly grew. In 1904, he joined the staff of the British illustrated newspaper The Sphere, painting illustrations of major events including the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. 

Matania’s talents were in great demand during the Great War and he was hired to produce war art for publications such as The London Illustrated News. His depictions of the Front were highly detailed and carefully researched. Matania’s pictures were very much of their time, being very melodramatic and heroic in tone. After the war, they gradually fell from favour, overshadowed by the depictions of the conflict by more modernist artists. However Matania’s illustrations have recently been re-valued and are finding new audiences. 

After the war, Matania’s career reached its peak commercially in the 1930s when he began producing illustrations for the magazine Britannia & Eve, work which usually portrayed the lavish and erotic lifestyles of ancient Rome & Egypt and each picture always included at least one or two nude women (when Mantania didn’t add one, he received terse letters from readers). To his credit, Mantania was noted for his extensive historical research of the ancient periods and in 1955, he was commissioned by film director Cecil B Demille to produce concept art for the latter’s film The Ten Commandments. Mantania spent his final years producing work for Look & Learn magazine. 

pete hill (formerly Bunter)
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Boche Plane Falling in No Man’s Land, Verdun–  Crayon & charcoal on paper by George Matthews Harding

George Matthews Harding (1882-1959) was an American artist & illustrator who was one of eight US artists hired to be official war artists with the US Expeditionary Force to France in the Great War. Born in Philadelphia, Harding trained at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in the evenings whilst he worked as an architect during the day. Before the war, Harding worked as an illustrator for publications such as Harper’s Weekly and the Saturday Evening Post and in 1915 he became a fine arts professor at the University of Pennsylvania, a post he held for 20 years. 

Harding was appointed as a US war artist in 1917 and he produced a large number of works, including charcoal and crayon drawings which have a dramatic, starkly graphic style, works which have influenced a number of present-day comic artists. Harding later became a war artist again during the Second World War, this time for the US Marine Corps in the Pacific theatre and in 1940, became a member of the US National Academy of Design, a post he held for the remainder of his life. 

pete hill (formerly Bunter)
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British Aerodrome 1918– Oil by John Lavery.

John Lavery (1856-1941) was an Irish painter who enjoyed a successful career as a portraitist during the late Victorian and Edwardian eras. Born in Belfast, Lavery studied art in Glasgow and Paris, training in the then fashionable style of portraiture- a painterly tonal realism inspired by the 17th century Spanish master Velasquez and 18th century British painters such as Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough. Lavery became a successful society portraitist by the 1890s and commissions flowed to his studio at a steady rate. He became good friends with American-born painter James M Whistler and his work was influenced by the latter to a degree but Lavery’s work still remained fundamentally traditional and conservative. 

Lavery was appointed to be an official British war artist in 1917 but, now aged 61, he was physically ill-suited to handle the rigours of visiting the frontlines and injuries from a car accident in England prevented him from going to France. As a result, his wartime paintings mostly portrayed scenes from the home front and his few combat paintings relied on photographs as references. 

In the 1920s, Lavery and his Irish-American wife Hazel were supporters of the Irish Independence Movement and in 1921, the couple allowed Irish negotiators in the Anglo-Irish Treaty to stay at their London home. Hazel modeled for a number of Lavery’s paintings and an image of her featured on Irish banknotes until 1975. Lavery died in Ireland in 1941. 

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