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

We Ask Your Attention! The British Surrealist Group Takes Arms

The celebrated International Surrealist Exhibition took place in London in June 1936, immediately prior to the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. The history of the British Surrealist movement was subsequently closely linked with the conflict. In October 1936 the artist Roland Penrose travelled to Catalonia with the editor Christian Zervos and the Surrealist poet David Gascoyne to report on efforts to preserve Catalan art. Through his friendship with Pablo Picasso and other continental Surrealists Penrose played a central role in mobilising British artistic responses to the Civil War.

Although their artworks featured more subtle and dreamlike imagery when compared to the directness of the posters and paintings by their realist contemporaries, the British Surrealist Group issued a number of directly political Declarations on Spain calling for arms for the people of Spain (a criticism of the British Government’s non-intervention policy) and calling on people to ‘INTERVENE IN THE FIELD OF POLITICS, INTERVENE IN THE FIELD OF THE IMAGINATION’. At the 1938 May Day Procession in London, a group of Surrealist artists marched wearing masks of the Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain that had been made by the sculptor F.E. McWilliam in order to protest British appeasement of the fascists. The artist S.W. Hayter, who ran the Atelier 17 in Paris served as a direct link to many European Surrealist artists and helped to arrange print portfolios to raise funds for the Republican cause, such as ‘Solidarité’, which featured British and European artists including Picasso, Joan Miró, André Masson and John Buckland Wright.