A city transformed by war

Painting. Three Soldiers standing in front of an illuminated Underground sign by Henry Carr
Henry Carr, Familiar Silhouettes, 1942. © IWM (Art.IWM ART LD 1734)

A city transformed by war

The Second World War was a period of rapid change for London. From the influx of servicemen from across the globe, to the air raids that destroyed buildings, homes and lives, the war transformed the city. Artists living and working in the capital during this period responded to the changing landscape of the city through their work. Much of the artwork produced during this period was commissioned or purchased by the War Artists’ Advisory Committee. A selection of these works are brought together in Wartime London in Paintings by Suzanne Bardgett, published by IWM.

Available to purchase from the IWM Shop

Here are 10 examples of paintings that chart the story of the war in London. 

Art

Women and Children in the Tube

Art

Women and Children in the Tube

Henry Moore, 1940

Henry Moore became fascinated by 'tube shelterers': ‘I had never seen so many reclining figures, and even the train tunnels seemed to be like the holes in my sculpture.’

Painting by Henry Moore women and children in the tube during an air raid
Henry Moore, Women and Children in the Tube, 1940 © IWM (Art.IWM ART LD 759)
Art

A House Collapsing on Two Firemen

Art

A House Collapsing on Two Firemen

Shoe Lane, London, EC4

Leonard Rosoman, 1940

Leonard Rosoman served with the Auxiliary Fire Service and captured this disastrous moment as a wall collapses on two firemen. One of the firemen was killed - a fact which haunted Rosoman for the rest of his life.

Painting by Leonard Rosoman showing two firemen trying to escape a collapsing wall during an air raid
A House Collapsing on Two Men, Shoe Lane, London, EC4, Leonard Rosoman, 1940 © IWM (Art.IWM ART LD 1353)

The Blitz and the War Artists’ Advisory Committee

 Ernest Boye Uden, Southampton Row, London, April 1941, 1941.
Ernest Boye Uden, Southampton Row, London, April 1941, 1941. © IWM (ART LD 1847)

The Blitz and the War Artists’ Advisory Committee

The German Air Force, the Luftwaffe, conducted aerial raids against Britain between May 1940 and the early part of 1945. The most intense period, known as the Blitz, came between May 1940 and September 1941. Though the Blitz saw towns and cities across Britain subjected to bombing raids by the Lufwaffe, London received the heaviest and most sustained assault, with 57 consecutive night raids. 

The War Artists’ Advisory Committee was set up in 1939 to compile a documentary record of the war. As the bombs rained down on the capital, the WAAC and its artists were eager to get to work documenting the scenes that played out night after night. Some of the WAAC artists even served in the Auxiliary Fire Service - their understanding of the work evident in their art.  

Art

In the Shelter

Art

In the Shelter

Edward Ardizzone, 1940

Edward Ardizzone's watercolour captures the exhaustion of a sleepless night in an air raid shelter. 

 

Painting by Edward Ardizzone of men, women and children sleeping in a shelter during the Blitz
Edward Ardizzone, In the Shelter, 1940 © IWM (Art.IWM ART LD 480)
Art

Standing-by on Train 21:

Art

Standing-by on Train 21:

One of the Civilian Evacuation Trains Ready to Evacuate Casualties at Short Notice

Evelyn Dunbar, 1941

Train 21, an ambulance train based at Goodmayes Hospital in Essex, provided a perfect scene for Evelyn Dunbar. She captured the emergency team off-duty, ready to travel into the capital to retrieve the injured. 

Painting by Evelyn Dunbar of medical staff on an ambulance train during the Blitz
Evelyn Dunbar, Standing By on Train 21: One of the Civilian Evacuation Trains Ready to Evacuate Casualties at Short Notice, 1941 © IWM (Art.IWM ART LD 1858)
Art

St Paul’s Cathedral:

Art

St Paul’s Cathedral:

seen from Chiswell Street, near Moorgate Street, London

Louisa Puller. 1941

Louisa Puller captures an area of total devastation north of St Paul's Cathedral after intense aerial bombardment in the winter of 1940-1941.

Painting of the devastation around St Paul's Cathedral during the Blitz
Louisa Puller, St Paul's Cathedral: seen from Chiswell Street, near Moorgate Street, London © IWM (Art.IWM ART LD 1692)

London at war

© IWM (ART LD 415) Kenneth Rowntree, Foreign Service-men in Hyde Park, Early Summer, 1940, 1940.
Kenneth Rowntree, Foreign Service-men in Hyde Park, Early Summer, 1940, 1940. © IWM (ART LD 415)

London at war

As well as the destruction and upheaval wrought by the air raids, artists captured the other ways in which the capital was changed by the war. One of the most notable changes, which began from the earliest months of the war, was the appearance of increasing numbers of uniformed servicemen, both British and from overseas. Artists also documented the changing role of women, thousands of whom entered the workforce for the first time.

Art

A Railway Terminus

Art

A Railway Terminus

Henry Carr, 1941

Carr captures a busy scene at St Pancras station, then the capital's flagship railway station, with soldiers checking timetables and travellers purchasing tickets. 

Painting of a railway station during the Blitz with soldiers in uniforms mixing with civilians
Henry Carr, A Railway Terminus, 1941 © IWM (Art.IWM ART LD 1947)
Art

An Escalator in an Underground Factory

Art

An Escalator in an Underground Factory

Frank Dobson, 1944

Factory workers in white overalls descend an escalator to their secret underground factory. They work for Plessey, which moved its operations into a new stretch of the London Underground's Central line. The tunnels were turned into a five-mile long factory producing shell and bomb casings, aircraft parts and radio components.  

 

Painting of women descending an escalator to an underground factory in tunnels beneath London during the Blitz
Frank Dobson, An Escalator in an Underground Factory, 1944 © IWM (Art.IWM ART LD 4142)

10 Paintings of Wartime London draws on the extensive art collection at IWM, one of the most significant collections of twentieth century British art in the world. 

Wartime London in Paintings

Front cover of Wartime London in Paintings with an artwork showing soldiers in the London Underground

Wartime London in Paintings

Wartime London in Paintings, published by IWM, is available to purchase from the IWM Shop

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