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Leslie Cole, W.A.A.F.s Working inside a Balloon, 1941. Watercolour. Presented by His Majesty’s Government and the War Artists Advisory Committee in 1947 © The Hepworth Wakefield (Wakefield Permanent Art Collection)
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Approaching Thunder: 1940s British Prints and Drawings

25 Feb - 26 Nov 2017

This exhibition draws from The Hepworth Wakefield’s outstanding collection of 1940s British works on paper, revisiting a decade of anxiety, austerity and idealism that resonates strongly with our lives today. With materials strictly rationed and the art market in crisis, leading artists such as John Piper, Graham Sutherland and Edward Bawden turned to the inexpensive medium of paper.

Although a substantial number of works in the show were produced under the patronage of Kenneth Clark’s War Artists Advisory Committee, these images are in marked contrast to the idealised state propaganda embodied in the art of Nazi Germany. Though government-regulated, the works exhibited here convey individual and subjective experience, exploring ordinary lives under extraordinary shared circumstances. Figures are lost in thought or absorbed in their labours; intricately described landscapes reveal devastation but also the lingering vitality of the natural world. Perhaps reflecting this move to a renewed social engagement, public interest in modern art soared across the country.

A small group of Henry Moore’s ‘shelter drawings’ form a particular highlight, while a selection of illustrated books show modernist artists using low-cost lithography to circulate their work across a broad social spectrum.