English Artists go to war against Nazis


Numerous artists were hired by the committee to document the war for posterity and to provide employment to them.

All portraits in this posts are portraits painted in pastels by portrait artist William Dring. He produced more than sixty portraits under contract to the War Artists Advisory Committee. Most were in pastel or watercolour.


Admiral Sir John Cronyn Tovey, KCB, KBE, DSO, Commander-in-Chief, Home Fleet (1940 to 1943) by William Dring, 1942. Half-length portrait of the Admiral standing on the bridge of a ship with binoculars. Copyright: © IWM. 


Admiral Sir John Tovey

Tovey coordinated the chase and sinking of the Bismarck in which his flagship, King George V, played a major role. He was promoted to Admiral of the Fleet in 1943.  After serving forty-six years in the Royal Navy, Tovey retired in 1946. Upon his retirement, in recognition of his service to Great Britain, the Royal Navy and his performance in World War Two, he was elevated to the peerage as the 1st Baron Tovey. He was one of the great fighting admirals of the Royal Navy in World War Two.


Leading Signalman J G Burton, signalling with an Aldis lamp, ‘HMS King George V’  by William Dring, 1942. A half-length portrait of Leading Signalman J G Burton in uniform on the deck of the ship. He is turned sideways, holding a signaling lamp up to his face with both hands. Copyright: © IWM

Comments Charles McCain: while this portrait was painted in 1942, the sailor is wearing a cap tally or ribbon with the name of his ship which was the practice prior to the outbreak of war. All cap tallies showing the name of a ship were replaced at the beginning of World War Two with cap tallies which only showed the letters, HMS.

Because King George V was one of the Royal Navy’s most well-known battleships, I feel certain the artist painted the subject as wearing a KGV cap tally to identify the ship he was serving on.


Seaman Gunner E Pryor, Leading Seaman P H Robson, and Seaman T E Paul; in the seamen’s mess, ‘HMS Bay’ by William Dring.  A group portrait of Seaman Gunner E Pryor, Leading Seaman P H Robson and Seaman T E Paul sitting on a bench in the mess of HMS Bay playing a game of cards. All three men where dark roll-neck jumpers. Copyright: © IWM.


Chief Petty Officer C S Jones, DSM, ‘HMS Thunderbolt’, by William Dring, 1942.  Portrait of a Petty Officer sitting with his arms crossed in the engine room.

Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/8021(Art.IWM ART LD 2625) image:


Lest we forget

Royal Navy T-Class Submarine HMS Thunderbolt lost with all hands to Italian destroyers in the Med

14 March 1943




“The Ministry of Information established the War Artists Advisory Committee (WAAC) in 1939, prompted by Sir Kenneth Clark, then Director of the National Gallery.



The WAAC met at the National Gallery once a month. Clark chaired the Committee, whose brief was ‘to draw up a list of artists qualified to record the war at home and abroad. In co-operation with the Services Departments, and other Government Departments…to advise on the selection of artists on this list for war purposes and on the arrangements for their employment’.

Officially at least, the purpose of the Committee was propaganda. Art exhibitions were organised in Britain and America both to raise morale and promote Britain’s image abroad.



Clark’s generation had been marked by the deaths of many artists and writers in the First World War…

it was also hoped that by keeping artists usefully employed the scheme might prevent a new generation of British artists from being killed.

Despite these efforts, three artists, Eric Ravilious, Thomas Hennell and Albert Richards, were killed during the Second World War.

Clark gave his personal support to an eclectic range of modern painters. Through direct commissions but also acquisition of works offered to them, the WAAC accumulated a significant collection which covers an incredible range of wartime subjects at home and abroad.

At the end of the war, the collection consisted of 5,570 works, over half of which are held by IWM.”