Wednesday 13 June 2012

National Archives places war art online

Thanks to Simon Fowler for the following press release from TNA (, which I have slightly abridged:

Work by ‘forgotten’ war artists goes online

Hundreds of original wartime art works have been put online thanks to a partnership between The National Archives and Wikimedia UK.

Food production apple picking by Drake Brookshaw
The unique collection, now freely available on Wikimedia Commons, includes oil paintings, drawings, posters, caricatures and portraits produced as propaganda for the Ministry of Information during the Second World War.

As well as the original works behind famous campaigns such as ‘Dig for Victory’ and ‘Careless talk costs lives’, the collection includes portraits of Allied commanders, members of the Royal Family and leading figures such as Stalin, Churchill and Eisenhower.

Other propaganda posters aimed to foster a sense of Allied unity, increase recruitment to the armed forces and boost industrial and agricultural output. While posters encouraging greater energy efficiency and recycling have modern resonance more than 70-years after they were created.

Important modern artists such as Terence Cuneo and Laura Knight feature alongside works by little or unknown artists recruited for the war effort. For example a striking 1944 portrait of HRH Princess Elizabeth is simply signed by ‘Tim’.

The collection also includes unpublished and draft works, many with pencilled comments by the artists or Ministry officials clearly visible.

Jo Pugh, Education Technical Officer at The National Archives, said: “The generosity of Wikimedia UK has enabled us to open up the extraordinary work of these, sometimes obscure artists, to the widest possible audience online. They are an often overlooked part of Britain’s war effort but their themes resonate down the decades. I hope this is the first step in an ongoing collaboration that will enhance both the Archives' knowledge of our own collections and Wikipedia itself.”

The first 333 pieces in the series are already available to view online and are free to download. This is the first phase of a proposed digitisation of the entire collection of almost 2,000 individual art works.

Ashley Van Haeften, chair of Wikimedia UK, said: “The National Archives has the most astonishing, moving and disturbing works of war art that I have ever seen. The opportunity for volunteers to be a part of bringing these artefacts to the public eye, in many cases for the first time, is one of the reasons why Wikimedia UK exists. We are grateful to the enthusiastic staff in the archives for taking the lead in making this happen.”

The collection is accessible at


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