The cover of Sim Fine Art’s latest catalogue of British wartime pictures is devoted to These Laid the World Away, an oil painting by Anna Zinkeisen (1901-76).
The catalogue and accompanying exhibition, running from November 28 to December 8 at The Gallery in Shepherd Market, is devoted to the home front – though Zinkeisen’s painting is distinctly otherworldly.
In the allegorical scene, an anonymous soldier is supported in a Christ-like pose by an androgynous figure. He sits astride a forming mushroom cloud while scenes of war and grief carry on in the background.
Zinkeisen, a Scottish artist, completed many commissions during the Second World War working for the Order of St John at St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington as a casualty nurse as well as a medical artist. However, this picture was not one of her official works, but a personal response to the war.
Dealer Andrew Sim says: “One of the things that strikes me about the artists involved [in the show] is that the war brought out the best in them. A good example of this is my cover piece by Anna Zinkeisen, whose pre-war work consisted of rather vapid society portraits and daft mock-Regency frippery, but who was transformed by the war into a serious artist.”
He calls it “one of the most powerful reflections on the futility of war that I know”. For him, it is arguably her masterpiece.
In focusing on wartime efforts in Britain, the catalogue delves into some unusual settings. A series by Henry Rushbury (1889-1968) depicts a magnesite factory with vast purpose-built tanks and the complex workings of a crushing plant as well as other factory and mining scenes.
Elsewhere in the catalogue are more familiar pictures of the British home front. Two of these are by Roland Vivian Pitchforth (1895- 1982), whom Sim argues also did the best work of his career during the War.
Leicester Square Bombed – Thurston’s Hall Destroyed was completed during a six-month salaried role with the Ministry of Information. The resulting watercolours, most of which are now in the Imperial War Museum, are large and vivid, though after the war, Sim says, Pitchforth’s compositions became “unrecognisably colourless and empty”.
Other scenes include factory interiors, a paratrooper crashlanding in an ornamental pond, and a still-life of an air raid warden’s equipment.
This year marks the 13th annual edition of Sim’s Holding the Line series.
Pictures of Britain at war have an enduring interest for both private buyers and museums/public collections – The catalogues have resulted in a string of sales to major institutions including the Tate, Science Museum, National Portrait Gallery, Imperial War Museum, National Maritime Museum and RAF Museum.
Most recently, the Canadian War Museum purchased a triptych of oils titled the Artillery Barrage by Ronald Barr, a British First World War artist to emigrated to Canada.
Sim’s catalogues are extensively researched and colourfully written, providing stories and background to intrigue those keen to learn instead of (or as well as) buy.