Wartime Art

The years of 1939-1945 became the most tragic in the history of mankind.  The Second World War took the lives of over 60 million people and broke the hearts of even more families and friends around the globe. Every day takes us further away from those times and there are fewer surviving participants and witnesses left among us. This makes the war-time records increasingly precious for us and especially for younger generations.

Works of art created during the years of the Second World War are of special historical and artistic value. Thousands of posters, drawings, paintings and sculptures were produced in Great Britain and the Soviet Union during the period of 1939-1945. Some of them were born under patronage of their respective government schemes, others by the initiatives of the artists themselves.

Official artists, who recorded the war, are often predominantly known in their home countries.  Some of their works constitute an important part of both state and private collections and are being exhibited nationally. There are also artists, whose works were not commissioned and are rarely displayed to a wider public, both at home and abroad. Their life drawings, watercolours and sketches made as active soldiers at the front, during rare moments of calm between the battles, represent unique personal encounters of people, places and happenings experienced by the artists on their wartime journeys. These visual records, which were often created spontaneously and at immense speed, radiate the extraordinary sincerity and emotional intensity of the moment.

Unfortunately, there have been only a few accounts of Soviet visual art of the Second World War being exhibited in the United Kingdom and vice versa. This area can be identified as a noticeable gap in understanding of art and history of the period as well as cross-cultural studies of the two countries. 2015 will mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the world’s most tragic military conflict. This time can be seen as an appropriate occasion to shine more light onto that interesting era via the medium of art – in memory of all who fought against fascism across the borders; for education and future considerations.

This website provides insight into personal histories and depicts selected drawings created by Russian veterans of the Second World War who crossed Europe from Russia to Berlin with a rifle, a pencil and a sketchbook.
This is the start of a virtual museum of unofficial wartime art and memories of those who took part in the Second World War. Please contact us if you have any information you would like to share about your families and friends, who might have recorded their memories at war. You are also welcome to write to us with any ideas and suggestions about further developing this project.  info@wartimeart.com

 

Pavel Afonin, Self-Portrait, 1942

Pavel Afonin, Self-Portrait, 1942

Pavel Ivanovich Afonin (1920-2011) – an honoured architect of the Russian Federation, Professor of Architecture and an artist.

He joined the front at the age of 21 as a sapper and went through to the end of the war, storming Berlin in May 1945. Pavel was awarded four orders and eighteen medals for his service and the courage he demonstrated in some of the most decisive battles, including the liberation of Leningrad, Warsaw and Tallinn.

He created over 200 sketches and drawings during the years of war.

 

Babkov, Self-portrait 1943

Babkov, Self-portrait. 1943, watercolour

Sergey Fedorovich Babkov (1920-1993) – an acclaimed Russian artist, member of the War Artists Studio named after M.B. Grekov.

He fought as an artillerist in the years 1942-1945 and took part in the legendary battles of Kursk and Berlin. Sergey finished the war with the title of Senior Lieutenant and received three orders and several medals. He created a series of unique sketches and watercolours of his war-time impressions.

Sergey and Pavel became acquainted after the war and continued painting for many years. They helped to build a special archive of personal records of war, which are of unique historical and artistic value for generations to come. The material is sourced from family archives of the surviving relatives of the artists in the USA, Russia and the UK.

 

Atanov, Self-Portrait, 1941

Atanov, Self-Portrait, 1941

Atanov Vladimir Sergeevich (1919-2011)  – an honoured architect of the Russian Federation, Professor of Painting, acclaimed master of watercolour painting. 

He joined the front in 1941 and went through the war leading the mortar company, taking part in the battles of Leningrad, on the Mannerheim Line, in Vyborg and Kurlandia. For participation in fighting V.S.Atanov was awarded two orders, including the Order of the Red Star (1943) and ten medals. Vladimir carried a set of watercolours with him through the years of war, making sketches between the fighting. Unfortunately, only a few of them survived.

Vladimir and Pavel got to know each other during the entry exams at the Moscow Architectural Institute, then volunteered to go to the front, but fought in different troops. They went through the war and met three times at the front. They claimed that art helped them to stay alive. They finished their studies after the war finished and maintained their friendship until the last days of their life. We are grateful to Vladimir’s relatives, who shared their family archives.

 

Martilla

Martilla, Self-portrait, 1942

Elena Oskarovna Marttila (b. 1923) – accomplished artist and member of the Saint Petersburg Union of Artists. She had just finished Art School of the All Russian Academy of Arts when war broke out in Russia.

She lived through the hardest winter of 1941–2 in the besieged Leningrad, working as a nurse and helping to evacuate children, and continued her drawing. After the war Elena worked as a theatre artist and taught in a number of art schools. She created a collection of cardboard etchings based on her sketches made during the war.