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Artists under Fire: Remembering the Great War 1914-1918

15 May 15 -- jsuess
Dr Catherine Whistler, Acting Keeper, Department of Western Art, Ashmolean Museum

This post is part of a series highlighting outcomes of the Innovation Fund in 2014-15 - Read about the Innovation Fund

In July 2014 the Ashmolean's Western Art team were awarded an Innovation Fund for a project led by the Western Art Print Room Assistant, Caroline Palmer. The project was to develop an online exhibition of 30 images to commemorate the First World War centenary called Artists Under Fire: Remembering the Great War 1914-1918.

In the final exhibition, hosted on the Ashmolean Museum website, 36 images were included under ten separate themes, including ‘Dressing the Part’, ‘Tending the Wounded’, ‘Boots on the Ground’, ‘From Dock to Deck’ and ‘The Home Front: From Music to Munitions’.

Launched on Remembrance Day 2014, the exhibition showcases a range of striking drawings, prints and watercolours which reveal the effects of the war on soldiers and civilians alike, as seen through the eyes of contemporary artists. The images include propaganda and caricatures, battlefield landscapes, and scenes of the war at sea and in the air. The Home Front is also vividly portrayed, from women working on munitions to families sheltering in the London Underground. These are all works of art on paper drawn from the permanent collections of the Western Art Print Room of the Ashmolean Museum, which holds a particularly fine collection of twentieth-century prints and drawings by British artists. Several of these works were photographed and presented online (as zoomable images) for the first time thanks to the ASPIRE grant, which will also help towards making them permanently available as part of our digital collections. 

Eric Kennington, 'Into the Trenches', lithograph, 1917 (WA1919.31.16)

Between November 2014 and the end of April 2015 there have been 2,179 individual visitors to the site, with a total of 2,990 separate visits. The 13 pages of the site have been viewed 9,303 times. It is now available on the Ashmolean site under Online Collections and is also linked from the Print Room page. The link has also been posted on the ‘First World War centenary’ site led by the Imperial War Museum.

An additional advantage of ‘Artists under Fire’ is that it has allowed us to emphasize the accessibility of the Western Art Print Room to all kinds of visitors in the introductory text: 

“For conservation reasons, these works cannot be kept on permanent display in the Museum, but they are freely available to anyone wishing to see them. … We hope that after viewing these powerful and varied images, you will want to come and find out more.”

As a result we have had several visitors coming specifically to view First World War works, as well as a series of four group visits. These were arranged through our Education department and given by historian Peter Vass, who based his talks around many of the works included in the online exhibition, assisted by the information in the label texts.

The template created for Artists Under Fire was also created in such a way to be reused for future online exhibitions, offering staff across the Museum the potential to develop new exhibitions, highlighting themes within the collection.


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