Edward Bawden 1939-1944

Catalogue number
  • ART/WA2/03/044/1
Art and Popular Design
Part of
  • whole: 167pp

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Bound volume

Content description

The WAAC recommended in December 1939 that Bawden should be appointed as an official Air Ministry artist, along with Paul Nash. However the War Office "made their case out" (7), and Bawden became one of their artists, along with Eves, Ardizzone and Roberts. The next letter from Bawden is in May 1940, after his return from France with the withdrawal from Dunkirk. Bawden expressed his regret at having had to leave, and Dickey reported him to be "extremely anxious to be sent out again to another scene of activity" (12). He departed for the Middle East in July. There is regular correspondence with Bawden, and with his wife, Charlotte, regarding expenses and equipment costs, including those for materials lost in the Dunkirk evacuation. By late April 1941, Bawden writes from Abyssinia, that he has so far found it difficult to record Africa and that his first batch of drawings are "confused" (40). He also writes that in the altitude of Eritrea and Ethiopia he suffered from "unpleasant nervous symptoms". Although he "thoroughly enjoys" the life, he offers to return to allow another artist a turn. The WAAC would not hear of this. In April 1942, he sent back details of two batches of drawings, of Siwa, Maaten Bagush and the harbours of Cyrenaica, of which he gives details, and reported that he was about to travel to Syria, Iraq and Iran, regretting having to leave Ethiopia: " the most interesting country I have seen". He also comments on Anthony Gross, who is to join him in the region, "exactly the right sort of painter for the Middle East: the right temperament and talent". (48) gives details of two series of pictures, of the 1975 Behuana Coy. 64 Group AAPC, and the Royal Indian Army Service Corps Indian Mule Coys. Edward Ardizzone was sent out to replace Bawden in May 1942. Bawden's letter of 22 June 1942 (55), is from the swamps of the Euphrates where he is staying as a guest of the sheikhs of the Muntafiq people. This letter describes this situation in detail, although there is some damage and loss to the letter. Although Bawden's official appointment had ended for the present, he was allowed to stay on "surplus to requirements" and goes on to explain why he has avoided standard military subjects such as camps and hospitals, in favour of the "native life". En route from Africa, Bawden's ship was torpedoed and he was held in a Vichy internment camp in Casablanca, an experience he drew on his return to Britain in January 1943. In March he was with the Berkshire regiment at Aldeburgh, and drawing scenes at the Military Hospital in Colchester, although he was keen to go back to Iran and Iraq. This proposal was accepted, but this time he would be appointed by the Ministry of Information rather than the War Office The file includes extensive discussion of the question of whether official artists serving abroad should pay income tax, and of appropriate salaries and expenses for the forthcoming trip. Bawden spent a short time in Scotland, with the Polish Forces, leaving for Iraq in early August 1943, stopping in Cairo en route to Baghdad. There were problems because the local offices of the Ministry of Information were not expecting him. The offices at Cairo in particular wished to hold an exhibition of drawings before they were sent to London. There is only the briefest reference to the abortive scheme for Bawden to travel to China. In Autumn 1943 he spent 5 weeks in Kurdistan, as described in (158-159a). On his return to Baghdad, he spent much of his time drawing portraits. At the end of the year, it was agreed that he should accompany the British Anti-Locust Campaign force (for details see Press Release, (153-157)). The file ends with some requests for materials.

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