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British Art in the 1940s

The War Artists Advisory Committee was formed at the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. It revived the successful official War Artists scheme of the First World War, when representatives of the artistic avant-garde produced powerful images of conflict. The second scheme was more concerned with producing work for propaganda or recording purposes and documenting the human dimension of war, represented by the paintings of bomb-damaged buildings by John Piper and Graham Sutherland and Henry Moore's drawings of Underground shelters or Yorkshire miners.

During the 1940s there was a resurgence of Romanticism in British art and literature, in response to the violence of the war. This art was given the label 'Neo-Romantic' by the art critic Raymond Mortimer in a review of an exhibition at the London Museum in March 1942 entitled 'New Movements in Art'. Neo-Romantic artists such as John Minton and John Craxton depicted the landscape as a pastoral idyll, nostalgic for the England of William Blake and Samuel Palmer. Other artists including Ceri Richards and Ivon Hitchens created a poetic response to nature, but looked to the Continent and, in particular, the work of Picasso and Matisse.

Key works include: 'Burning Buildings' (1944) by Keith Vaughan, 'Self-Portrait with Hyacinth' (1947-48) by Lucian Freud and 'Flowers' (1942) by Ivon Hitchens.