BHC1382: Converting a Cunarder to a merchant cruiser, 1918, by John Everett (1876–1949) © National Maritime Museum

First World War paintings in Greenwich "War Artists at Sea" exhibition

Posted on on 15 February 2014
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Paintings from the First World War are featured in a series of exhibitions depicting warfare at sea which has opened at Royal Museums Greenwich in London.

The rolling programme of displays, called War Artists at Sea, is described as a showcase for the very best of the Museums' collection of First and Second World War art. It will run throughout 2014.

Visitors are promised "unusual viewpoints and poignant stories" in scenes of the home front, action at sea, life above and below deck, as well as the faces of those who fought. 

One of those faces is that of John "Jack" Cornwell (below), a boy seaman awarded the Victoria Cross who was painted by Ambrose McEvoy, one of the few official war artists of the Great War.


BHC2635: John Travers Cornwell, Boy 1st class (1900-16) by Ambrose McEvoy © National Maritime Museum, on loan from Mrs Mona McEvoy since 1966

McEvoy was asked to commemorate posthumous holders of the Victoria Cross, the highest military decoration for valour in the face of the enemy awarded to those serving with British and Commonwealth forces. 

Jack Cornwell, a 16-year-old sight-setter on the cruiser Chester,  became a national icon of bravery and civic duty for remaining at his post during the Battle of Jutland in 1916, despite suffering fatal injuries. 

To create posthumous portraits, McEvoy worked from photographs, but he found it difficult to capture the true spirit of a subject this way. The portrait of Cornwell was left unfinished.

War Artists at Sea also includes striking works (pictured, top) by John Everett, who worked on paintings connected with seaborne commerce for the Ministry of Information.    

Everett, who served in the Army, was a practical deepwater sailor whose work shows the knowledge he gleaned from living on board ship. The artist saw his subject in terms of rhythmic patterns, enabling him to create vigorous compositions. 

The exhibition also includes works by the First World War painters, Montague Dawson and John Fraser.

War Artists at Sea runs from 15th February 2014-February 2015. It can be seen at the Queen's House in Greenwich, a 17th century classical villa located next to the National Maritime Museum.

The museum will open a new gallery exploring the naval and maritime dimensions of the First World War in August 2014. 

Source: Royal Museums Greenwich 

Images courtesy of Royal Museums Greenwich © National Maritime Museum.

Posted by: Peter Alhadeff, Centenary News