Sunday 25 January 2015

British Artists and the Spanish Civil War

Pallant House Gallery in Chichester is currently staging a superb exhibition on the response of British artists to the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), under the title 'Conscience and Conflict'. There are paintings, drawings, posters, banners, photographs, leaflets, flyers, even a historic film sequence for which the sound has unfortunately been lost.

Many of the leading artists and movements of the 30s are represented, including Henry Moore, Quentin Bell, and the Surrealists, as well as many that I had not previously come across. The painting above, of a demonstration in Battersea in 1939 in support of the Spanish Republic, is by Clive Branson.

'Spanish Prisoner, 1939', Henry Moore

Picasso's iconic painting 'Guernica' was shown in London in 1938, and several artists make reference to it in their own works. This exhibition includes a fabric collage re-working of the image, made collaboratively over a year or more in the course of a number of workshops held across the UK and elsewhere.

'Guernica', collaborative collage, 2013-4

Goya's 'Disasters of War' series was also shown in London in 1938, and some of the artists are clearly inspired by his images. A few of the Goya prints are on show here, and you can feel as well as see the influence.

"Bury them and shut up", Francisco Goya, 1810s

Amongst the historic exhibits are a couple of banners of the British Battalion of the International Brigades. The one shown below has been used for decades to drape the coffins at the funerals of old brigaders. The British Battalion was named after the Labour Party leader Clement Attlee, who became Prime Minister when a Labour Government was elected after the Second World War. The film shown in the exhibition has clips of Attlee welcoming brigaders at Victoria Station, on their return to the UK in 1938.

British Battalion banner, 1938

There was much on show that was new to me, including a series of paintings by Clive Branson of scenes in the nationalist prisoner-of-war camp where he was detained for several months in 1938. These are held by the Marx Memorial Library in London, but unfortunately I have not been able to find any examples online that I could link to here.

Alongside the major exhibition is a delightful show of a dozen prints by Terry Frost inspired by poems of Federico García Lorca. See A Match Made in Colour on his website for   the effect Lorca's poetry had on him, and on his art.

Moon rising, Terry Frost, 1989

Cuando sale la luna 
se pierden las campanas 
y aparecen las sendas 

When the moon comes out
church bells are lost
and impenetrable paths

And finally, a nice surprise for me in the gallery's permanent exhibition - a few paintings of scenes in Spain by the East End Jewish artist David Bomberg, including this one of the bridge over the gorge at Ronda in Andalucía, where he lived for a year in the 1930s, not long before the outbreak of the Civil War.

Bridge at Ronda, David Bomberg, 1935

There's a dozen of his Spanish paintings in this series on the BBC's 'Your Paintings' site.

The exhibition runs until 15 February, and is possibly transferring to Newcastle later in the year, but is unlikely to be shown anywhere else as many of the items are on loan from other galleries and individuals, and will have to be returned. So if you're within reach of Chichester, get there if you can!