Monday, February 26, 2024

NEW Blavatnik Art, Film and Photography Galleries at the Imperial War Museum

Last Friday, I visited the Blavatnik Art, Film and Photography Galleries at the Imperial War Museum (IWM) for the first time. They are the galleries in the UK’s to explore how artists, photographers and filmmakers bear witness to and tell the story of war and conflict.

The Imperial War Museum is not typically a place I think of when wanting to see art - but recent developments suggest it should definitely be part of the education of any self-respecting artist of fan of art history who wants to understand better how war has been recorded from a visual perspective.

Not least because the Galleries include some iconic artwork as well as important films and photography.

The reason I was at the IWM last Friday was because I'd been invited by the Museum's Digital Producer/Director to some filming she was doing with Gareth Reid in relation to various of the outstanding paintings in the IWM's art collection.

Gareth Reid being filmed while sketching and making notes
about "Gassed" by John Singer Sargent

Some of you may remember Gareth Reid as the winner of the 2017 series of Portrait Artist of the Year and more recently Portrait Artist of the Decade (Review: Portrait Artist of the Decade as featured in Portrait Artist of the Decade Exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery - last few days). For me he will always Gareth Reid who I first met at the National Portrait Gallery back in 2008 when he was responsible for what I still think of as one of the best BP Travel Award Exhibitions in the history of the award (see BP Travel Award: Gareth Reid and the Finnish winter bathers).

He and I were both very impressed with the Galleries and their content. Read on to find out more.

The Blavatnik Art, Film and Photography Galleries

The Blavatnik Art, Film and Photography Galleries are located at the Imperial War Museum in London. They opened last November on Remembrance Sunday. 

The Galleries are free to enter, making more of IWM’s world-class collection available and accessible to all.

Entrance to the Blavatnik Art, Film and Photography Galleries
This is the first time in IWM’s history that a permanent gallery space has been created to display the three collections together - visual art, film and photography.
At the same time, the absolutely enormous and iconic painting titled "Gassed" by John Singer Sargent returned to public display for the first time following a long period of significant conservation work and a long tour to IWM North.  (see Installing an Iconic Painting: Gassed by John Singer Sargent)
The scene is the aftermath of a mustard gas attack on the Western Front in August 1918 as witnessed by the artist. Mustard gas was an indiscriminate weapon causing widespread injury and burns, as well as affecting the eyes. The painting gives clues about the management of the victims, their relative lack of protective clothing, the impact and extent of the gas attack as well as its routine nature – the football match goes on regardless. The canvas is lightly painted with great skill.
The varnish which had suffered extensive yellowing was removed and the painting now looks as it would have done when Singer Sargent painted it.  Find out more about the process.

oil on canvas
Support: Height 2310 mm., Width 6111 mm.
Frame: Depth 120 mm., Height 2700 mm., Width 6500 mm.

Now the varnish is removed you can see the football match behind the soldiers much more clearly - and the fact the players have different coloured tops. Plus you can see images of the planes in the sky. The treatment of the sky is also amazing - it's painted with very light and thin vertical brush strokes in a very pale blue.

The football match in "Gassed"

All the figures have been painted in very few colours with the skill displayed by Singer Sargent in using very few brush strokes to represent different aspects of the body or clothing.

The website has also had an overhaul which means it's easy to find artworks so long as you are careful with your choice of parameters

So, for example, you can not only see the painting - but also drawing studies used by Sargent to create the painting

The Blavatnik Galleries include significant artwork by war artists such as 
One thing I learned at the IWM is there are many more women was artists than I realised. They don't seem to get into most accounts of war artists - which (I'm guessing) are probably written by men! The one that impressed me was Evelyn Dunbar who has a look of Stanley Spencer about her work. See also 6 Stunning First World War Artworks By Women War Artists

My first encounters with war art has been through very specific time limited exhibitions - e.g. my blog posts below are about these exhibitions and war artists. 
However if you missed these you very rarely get an opportunity to view war art - and how artists were used - and how they improvised - to record what happened in the war.

(Left) Wyndham Lewis, 'A Battery Shelled' (1919)
(Right) Paul Nash, ‘The Menin Road’ (1919)

Travoys Arriving with Wounded at a Dressing Station
at Smol, Macedonia, September 1916
(1919) by Stanley Spener
oil on canvas

(Left) Ruby Loftus Screwing a Breech-ring (1943) by Dame Laura Knight
(Tight) Paul Nash, 'Battle of Germany' (1944).

Ethel LĂ©ontine Gabain, later Ethel Copley, (26 March 1883 – 30 January 1950)
- one of the women war artists

Also, don't miss the sketches by Linda Kitson - of the Falklands war - which you can see in the section of the museum which deals with more recent conflicts - in Northern Ireland and the Falkland Islands

Drawings of the Falklands Island (1982) by Linda Kitson - plus kit used

But I can't point you to where that is as there is no map of the museum on the website!!! 
and I found them accidentally. 

Development of the Imperial War Museum

I must confess I barely recognised the Imperial War Museum when I walked in. I realised it must have been quite some time my last visit. Nearly everything looks different - and the cafe is much improved!
The development of the Blavatnik Art, Film and Photography Galleries is part of the third phase in the dynamic transformation of IWM London. They enable IWM to share works from its exceptional art collection, one of the world’s most important representations of twentieth-century British art. The Galleries will include around 500 works from IWM’s collection, showcasing some of the vast and era-defining film and photography collections, which include over 23,000 hours of footage and over 12 million photographs. 
You can also see a short trailer for the Galleries on YouTube. 


IWM Art Collection

I didn't find it particularly easy to access art on their website. However if you persevere there's a lot there - although not all of it is yet digitised.

see the IWM Art Collection online.

Plus it's not easy to see where you might see artworks outside the new Galleries

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