Conscience and Conflict: British Artists and the Spanish Civil WarConscience and Conflict: British Artists and the Spanish Civil War

The Past in the Present: Historic Parallels

In 1938 the Victoria and Albert Museum held an exhibition of prints and drawings by the Spanish artist Francisco de Goya (1746–1828). The exhibition included Goya’s print series ‘The Disasters of War’ which had been created in response to the savagery of the Spanish Peninsula wars of 1808–14. Exhibiting these historic prints at the time of the Spanish Civil War was politically charged as they provided a historic parallel to the contemporary conflict and the brutality depicted served as a highly relevant inspiration to many contemporary artists.

Looking back to the artists of the past, the artist Edward Burra created macabre paintings that were inspired by the violence that he had encountered at the outbreak of the war in which he depicted symbolic scenes conflating the past with Spain's historic present. In a similar way, the former Vorticist artist Wyndham Lewis depicted the 15th century Siege of Barcelona as an implicit comment on modern Spain. He renamed the painting The Surrender of Barcelona’ after the city fell to General Franco in 1939. Although his position softened Lewis was deeply suspicious and critical of the communists and was broadly pro-Franco in his political outlook.