A Shell Forge at a National Projectile Factory, Hackney Marshes, London, 1918, by Anna Airy. Anna Airy was one of the first women war artists, employed by the Imperial War Museum in 1918. Although a well-respected female artist of her generation, the committee imposed strict terms on her contract of employment, which included their right to refuse a work without payment. This piece was a particular challenge for Airy, who had to work with great speed to capture the colour of the molten shells. The factory was tremendously hot, and on one occasion the heat of the ground became so intense that her shoes were burnt off her feet.
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A contemporary of William Orpen, Anna Airy trained at the Slade School of Art. She was one of the first women war artists, employed by the newly founded Imperial War Museum in 1918.
Although a well-respected and successful female artist of her generation, the Munitions Sub-Committee of the Imperial War Museum, which commissioned Airy, imposed strict terms on her contract of employment. These included their right to refuse a work and not pay for it. However, she successfully painted four large works for the Sub-Committee, each representative of a typical scene at a munitions or armament factory.
Airy's determination and adventurous spirit prepared her for the difficult conditions under which she had to paint inside the factories.
An Aircraft Assembly Shop, Hendon, 1918, by Anna Airy. The scene is the interior of the Aircraft Manufacturing Company erecting shop with DH9 planes in various stages of production. Workers are grouped together according to trades. The layout represents the first tentative moves towards the mass production methods developed by Henry Ford in the United States.
Shop for Machining 15-inch Shells: Singer Manufacturing Company, Clydebank, Glasgow, 1918, by Anna Airy. During the First World War, the Singer factory, which had opened in 1867 as the first overseas factory of the successful American sewing machine company, switched production to armaments. The success of Scottish heavy industry was built on low investment and cheap labour. Airy gives indications of this – the handling equipment is basic and the production lines disorganised.