British artists and World War I, exhibition


This video from Berlin, Germany is about Käthe Kollwitz, artist and World War I opponent.

By Tom Pearse in England:

World War I remembered through British art

Truth and Memory at the Imperial War Museum, London, until March 2015

6 September 2014

A major retrospective at the Imperial War Museum (IWM) London features the work of British artists sent to capture the reality of the First World War.

Compelling works reveal how artists helped commemorate “the war to end all wars.” They also highlight the dilemma facing official war artists. While many of the artists started the war at least generally supportive of its aims, they confronted something rather different at the front. Their portrayal of the horrors they witnessed does not always sit uncomfortably with official requirements.

The works are divided between two galleries, Truth—artists who created on the front line; and Memory—artists who painted their works on returning to Britain.

Truth is the more sobering. Visitors are confronted first with two paintings illustrating official British sentiment at the start of the war. William Barnes Wollen’s large Death of the Prussian Guard (1914) presents the first battle of Ypres as a moral triumph over Prussian militarism. Walter Sickert’s Integrity of Belgium, painted late in 1914, endorses support for “gallant little Belgium” in its noble and glamorous depiction of physical warfare.

Both paintings support the justification of British involvement in the war in defence of Belgium and in opposition to German militarism. This propaganda promoted British imperialism at the cost of millions of lives.

The rest of the gallery portrays a very different conflict. Two rooms feature works by Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson and Paul Nash, both appointed official war artists in 1917 for the Department of Information.

Nevinson had been associated with the Italian Futurists before the war, collaborating with the movement’s founder Filippo Tommaso Marinetti on a 1914 English Futurist Manifesto: Vital English Art. Marinetti had promised to “glorify war—the world’s only hygiene—militarism, patriotism, [and] the destructive gesture of freedom-bringers.”

Initially, therefore, Nevinson was interested in glorifying the war as a triumph of technical achievement. His style changed after the horrors of the front. The “essence of the new war,” he said, “was overwhelmingly extremely alien, and utterly un-heroic.”

He is best known for La Mitrailleuse [The Machine Gun] (1915), “an example,” in the words of the London Evening News, “of what civilized man did to civilized man in the first quarter of the 20th century.” It does not really stand up to this praise: it shows less of the realities of war than it does a Futurist glorification.

Memory contains a room devoted to the Vorticists, whose manifesto bore some similarities to Futurism, with its call for a “strong, virile and anti-sentimental” art. In Percy Wyndham Lewis’s A Battery Shelled (1919) the soldiers are insect-like stick figures. Lewis likened the First World War to an absurd nightmare, removed from everyday reality. The IWM distanced itself from his work, loaning it out long term to the Tate Gallery.

Percy Wyndham Lewis, A Battery Shelled, 1919

Nevinson’s French Troops Resting and The Doctor (both 1916) show a sympathetic realism. Of the image of a dead child in A Taube (1915), completed in Dunkirk after an air raid, Nevinson said: “there the small body lay before me, a symbol of all that there was to come.”

Nevinson’s depictions of death, like the portrayals of destruction by Paul Nash that hang alongside them, are apocalyptic. Paths of Glory (1917) was banned from public display, as it depicts two putrefying British soldiers lying face down in “no man’s land.”

C.R.W. Nevinson, Paths of Glory, 1917

Another similar picture did not attract the censor. The Irish-born William Orpen’s Dead Germans in a Trench (1918) also shows soldiers putrefying in their trenches. The Times said Orpen “paints the corpse with serene skill, just like he might paint a bunch of flowers.” The censor allowed this painting because, unlike Nevinson’s, it showed enemy corpses.

Orpen was criticized in the press, but achieved popular acclaim for his sympathetic response to what the IWM call “the madness of war.” Works like The Mad Woman of Douai (1918) and Blown Up—Mad (1917) portray its harrowing effects. He depicts trench warfare in grim detail but seems, in the words of his contemporary John Rothenstein, to have “found it difficult … to come to terms with the broader implications of the war.” This is a wider problem here.

Orpen had been associated with the Celtic Revival, seeking artistic expression for an Irish national identity alongside the literary Celtic Twilight movement. Orpen, who went to the front as an official war artist, remained a loyal figure within the British Empire despite his anguish at what he saw of the war. He was knighted by the British crown after the war.

What Orpen saw at the front affected him deeply. Most of his images, some of the most powerful here, come from the Somme. In August 1917 Orpen came across a vast cemetery where British troops had buried their own dead but left the Germans to rot. Like Dead Germans in a Trench, Orpen’s Thiepval (1917) leaves us with a dismal image of mud-baked white and the remains of a British and German soldier, their bones entangled in death.

Such sympathy was often based on personal experience. In “Over the Top”, 1st Artists’ Rifles at Marcoing, 30th December 1917 (1918), John Nash (Paul’s brother) recalls a disastrous action that resulted in the death and wounding of nearly his whole company.

Many of the artists emerge as deeply conflicted. Orpen, for example, despised the post-war vainglory of those military figures who commissioned him for portraits. Despite this, and his own depictions of imperialism’s effects, he was knighted for his war work in June 1918.

Another Irish official war artist represented in the Memory gallery, John Lavery, was also knighted for his work. He painted a portrait of Michael Collins after the pro-Anglo-Irish Treaty Sinn Fein leader’s assassination. Orpen and Lavery both gave the IWM substantial art collections after the war.

Lavery’s Lady Henry’s Crèche, Woolwich (1919) is one of several pieces showing women’s auxiliary work for the war, including Anna Airy’s Shop for Machining 15-inch Shells (1918). Airy, one of the first official women war artists, was employed by the IWM when it was first established. The Museum could refuse any work she produced, without payment.

Anna Airy, Shop for Machining 15-inch Shells: Singer Manufacturing Company, Clydebank, Glasgow, 1918

Memory also marks the memorialisation of the dead. George Clausen’s Youth Mourning (1916), inspired by the death of his daughter’s fiancé the year before, stands as an elegy for a lost generation; a powerful image of grief and sacrifice. Clausen was appointed an official war artist in 1917, but could not travel to the front because of his age.

George Clausen, Youth Mourning, 1916

The most striking work here is the final painting in the Truth gallery, Gassed: In Arduis Fidelis (Faithful in Adversity) by Gilbert Rogers (1918). In stark contrast to Wollen’s work opening the gallery, Rogers hauntingly depicts a dead medical officer lying alone in the mud surrounded by puddles of water. The officer’s gas mask is turned towards the observer, a disturbing image that stays with you.

Gassed: In Arduis Fidelis (Faithful in Adversity) by Gilbert Rogers

The exhibition is significant. The paintings do not just document the conflict. They raise questions about it.

The IWM was first proposed in 1917 as a “national war museum” to document the experiences of World War I. Its remit was extended in 1939 to cover the next world war. During the Korean War coverage was extended to “all conflicts in which British or Commonwealth forces had been involved since 1914.” Since then it has also expanded to run the Royal Air Force museum, the museum on World War Two warship HMS Belfast, and the War Rooms of Winston Churchill. While the IWM can be blunt about certain realities of conflict, it is also an official repository, pushed towards “approved” versions of history.

Like other cultural repositories in Britain, even the flagship museum of the government’s Great War centenary has not been immune to budget cuts. The IWM’s government grant has been reduced significantly, and it relies on private funding more than ever.

It also has to satisfy its 22 trustees, who are appointed variously by the monarch, the prime minister, the foreign secretary, the secretary of state for defence, and the high commissioners of the seven Commonwealth governments. The board currently includes leading military figures like former secret intelligence head Sir John Scarlett, as well as the billionaire Conservative donor Lord Ashcroft. This is a highly political body.

In October 2012 Prime Minister David Cameron opened the centenary campaign at the IWM announcing £50 million of funding, including an upgrade to the museum.

The portrayal in Truth and Memory stops short of analysing the wider implications of what the IWM calls the “epoch-defining events of the First World War.” Its focus, rather, is a sense of ordinary people working together in a difficult but necessary situation without commenting on the reasons. Overall its memorial to British sacrifice fits perfectly with David Cameron’s notions of “Britishness.”

IWM publicity underscores this: “At the turn of the last century, art in Britain held a position and status in society quite different from today and was often regarded as having a social function. In particular, images of warfare imparted notions of identity, culture and morality, enshrining these as the ‘truth’.”

The exhibition’s strengths lie in what it shows of the realities behind such notions. Artists in the current epoch confront the necessity to go further.

The exhibition, which is free of charge, runs until March 8, 2015.

Spanish government’s 18th century history censorship in the Netherlands


The book Victus by Albert Sánchez Piñol

Translated from NOS TV in the Netherlands:

Spain bans lecture in Utrecht

Thursday Sep 4 2014, 20:03 (Update: 04-09-14, 20:33)

A lecture by the Catalan author Albert Sánchez Piñol in Utrecht is off. At the last moment the organizer of the event, the Cervantes Institute, canceled the meeting.

It is not clear why the lecture was canceled. A spokesman would only say that the decision at the last minute has been taken by the Spanish Embassy in the Netherlands.

Furthermore, he refered to the headquarters of the Cervantes Institute in Madrid. There, however, there was no comment.

Censorship

The publisher of Sánchez Piñol is furious. “This is a serious matter which smells of censorship,” said Juliette van Wersch, of Signatuur publishers.

“It is unfortunate and incomprehensible for a publisher that this author cannot always speak in the Netherlands about Spanish and Catalan history“.

Victus

Sánchez Piñol was supposed to lecture tonight about his new book Victus. That novel is about a turning point in Spanish history: the fall of Barcelona in 1714. This meant Catalans lost their independence.

Van Wersch thinks the cancellation is perhaps linked to the 300th anniversary of the fall, on 11 September. “That is always accompanied by demonstrations, which in recent years became increasingly grim.”

Furthermore, the controversial referendum on Catalan independence can play a role, but that remains speculation. “They just wanted to say that it is sensitive and that it was not a good time.”

Pity

According to the publisher Sánchez Piñol regrets that now his book gets political overtones. “He just wanted to write a historical novel. He thinks this is very unfortunate and sad.”

The Cervantes Institute was founded to bring worldwide attention to the Spanish language and culture. It is funded by the Spanish government.

Russia, the new nazi Germany?


This video is called Hitler’s Holocaust 2 of 6 The Decision.

By Owen Jones in daily The Guardian in Britain:

David Cameron and the cynicism of comparing Putin to Hitler

Vladimir Putin is responsible for some awful human rights abuses in Ukraine, but Cameron drawing parallels to Hitler is a cheap, politically motivated shot

Wednesday 3 September 2014 11.35 BST

Oh, here we go. The west’s escalating showdown with Vladimir Putin has led to Adolf Hitler being invoked. According to David Cameron, the west risks “repeating the mistakes made in Munich in ‘38”, making it clear the role he sees the Russian leader as assuming. Putin was able to flatten Chechnya at the beginning of the century without such inflammatory comparisons – Tony Blair even cheered him on – but it was only a matter of time before western leaders began flinging Nazi comparisons around in the Ukraine crisis.

The west comparing its latest enemy number to the German Fuhrer has been a standard tactic for decades. When Egypt’s General Nasser nationalised the Suez Canal in 1956, Britain’s prime minister, Anthony Eden, compared him to Hitler, while Labour’s Hugh Gaitskell opted for a comparison with Benito Mussolini. Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic was the Hitler of the late 1990s, and the US dabbled with describing former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in these terms too. On the eve of the Iraq war, Saddam Hussein was repeatedly compared to Hitler, with Donald Rumsfeld even casting George W Bush in the role of Winston Churchill. The media abounded with such parallels in the build-up to the Iraq disaster, with one Telegraph article headlined “Appeasement won’t stop Saddam any more than Hitler” and even suggesting Iraq could bomb Southampton. On either sides of his rapprochement with the west, Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi faced the Hitler treatment, too.

In and of themselves, these comparisons are self-evidently ludicrous. Hitler was a racist totalitarian dictator who presided over the world’s only attempt at industrialised genocides of entire peoples, killing tens of millions in the process. It is possible to regard foreign leaders as deeply unpleasant and abusive of basic human rights without believing they are Hitler. There is plenty of space between “democracy that respects human rights” and “genocidal totalitarian regime with ambitions to conquer much of the world”. Cameron’s comparison will undoubtedly fuel anti-western sentiment among the Russian population: after all, the Soviet Union was absolutely instrumental in the defeat of Nazism, suffering well over 20 million fatalities. In the case of Russia, comparisons to Hitler could hardly be more insulting.

But the propaganda purpose is clear. Hitler is the most despised leader in history; everybody rational agrees that intervening was the right thing to do in that case. Those who demanded his appeasement are utterly discredited by history, and therefore it is highly effective to regard opponents of current western wars as the same dangerously naive, inadvertent friends of tyrants that can only be defeated. It is obvious in hindsight that the appeasers were wrong; their inheritors will one day be seen in just the same way after they have inflicted similar damage, or so the narrative goes.

There is no doubting the pernicious role of Putin. Pro-Russian rebels in the so-called Dontesk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic have been found to be arbitrarily detaining civilians and subjecting them to torture and other terrible mistreatment. Terrible human rights abuses have been committed by such rebels.

But let’s not pretend Ukraine’s government are champions of human rights either. According to Human Rights Watch, they have been using “indiscriminate rockets in populated areas” in violation of international humanitarian law. There have been unlawful, indiscriminate attacks by both government and rebels in Luhansk, and Ukraine’s government has shelled civilians in Dontesk, too. Amnesty International has similarly damned pro-Kiev vigilantes in eastern Ukraine. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian civilians have fled for the Russian border.

War between the west and Russia is clearly unthinkable, and only a negotiated settlement involving all parties in Ukraine can provide lasting peace. The ceasefire announced by Ukraine and Russia is promising, and needs to be supported to ensure that it lasts. Let’s resist the Hitler comparisons, which intend simply to shut down any reasoned discussion, to demonise all those who are not hawks, and to ratchet up tension. Soon enough, though, western leaders will settle on a new enemy number one, and the Hitler comparisons will begin all over again.

Also from The Guardian today:

Far from keeping the peace, Nato is a threat to it

It was the prospect of Ukraine being drawn into the western military alliance that triggered conflict in the first place

Bird book exhibition in The Hague, the Netherlands


Birds: Thousand years of birds in hundreds of books

Translated from Meermanno museum in The Hague in the Netherlands:

Birds: Thousand years of birds in hundreds of books

Royal Library and Museum Meermanno show special bird books

From August 29th, 2014 till January 4, 2015, the Royal Library (KB) and Museum Meermanno have a major exhibition on birds in books. The exhibition takes place at Museum Meermanno in The Hague.

At this special exhibition, rare bird books will be on display from ten centuries of book history, in six large rooms in the historic building of Museum Meermanno. The books are from the rich collections of the KB and Meermanno Museum.

The exhibition shows a broad overview of birds as the subjects of books, artwork and band decorations. From a tenth-century illustrated medieval manuscript, via a beautiful seventeenth-century scientific publications to books on falconry, pet birds and birds in literature and poetry.

There are also cookbooks to see about tasty fowl and curious books on various aspects of the birds: first aid for birds, sport with birds and travel books to bird colonies.

All types are covered: Dutch birds from chicken to great tit, exotic varieties from flamingos to penguins but also biblical and mythological flying animals.

Masterpieces

The following highlights are included: Der naturen bloeme by Jacob van Maerlant (around 1350), Ornithologia by Ulisse Aldrovandi (around 1600) and Chassidische legenden by Hendrik Nicolaas Werkman (1943-1944). The impressive book Nederlandsche vogelen by Nozemann and Sepp (1770-1829) was published in October 2014 in facsimile by Lannoo (www.nederlandschevogelen.nl).

Originally, there were plans for a photo opportunity with a bird of prey in the museum. After the The Hague branch of the Party for the Animals pointed out such an event would cause stress for the bird, the plan was canceled.