Visual Narratives of History A Close Reading into the Portrayal of World War II in the Paintings of Paul Nash, Eric Kennington and Graham Sutherland: Aptitude for Report or Tendency to Mislead.
Nada Ben Hammouda

The present thesis aims at providing an insight on the extent to which official British war paintings were capable of producing a pictorial record of Britain during World War Two. Through a qualitative research approach and a comprehensive analysis of selected paintings, this dissertation will point out the strengths and weaknesses of using art as a tool of reportage. The focus will be mainly centralized on three painters: Paul Nash, Eric Kennington and Graham Sutherland who signed contracts as official artists for the War Artists Advisory Committee. A comprehensive analysis will allude to both the propagandist as well as the informative task these paintings carried on. The analysis of selected paintings will be the backbone of this dissertation. Iconology will be applied to read artworks and assess their historical value. This study will also involve a comparison between artists in terms of style, backgrounds and experiences. Similarities as well as disparities will be pointed out and their effect on the artistic output will be examined. Despite not being the focal point of this research, this comparison will highlight the reasons why some art may be referred to as a record of events and other may not. Hence, this thesis will go beyond descriptive analysis and observation into a critical framework to confirm the ambivalent aspect of official war paintings as a recording tool. Depictions of airplanes by Nash, portraits of Royal Army Force personnel by Kennington as well as drawings of the Blitz by Sutherland will be closely examined. These works of arts, purchased by the WAAC amid World War Two, will be considered as a visual narrative of the conflict in Britain. The accuracies and inaccuracies of this latter will be traced back to the style, genre and choice of colors each painter used. The examination will answer the integral question of this dissertation: Are paintings capable of documenting history or do they often mislead due to overwhelming artistic inclinations?

Full Text: PDF       DOI: 10.15640/ijaah.v5n2a5