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Artists at the Somme
Wed 19 October 2016, 19:30 – 21:15 BST
Host: BBC Broadcaster John Toal
Poetry spoken by David Paulin and Chris Grant
Live music from the Ulster Orchestra’s Brass Quintet
Talk and images by the Art Curator of the Imperial War Museum, Richard Slocombe
The Battle of the Somme, the five-month, 141 day offensive is recognised as one of the bloodiest campaigns of the First World War, and took place one hundred years ago this summer and autumn.
More writers and poets fought at the Somme than in any other battle in history. Taken together with the visual artists and musicians who developed work in response to the Somme, the battle has a crucial significance for art in the 20th century.
It was the first conflict to spawn a wealth of artistic output from those who fought on its battlefields. The Somme alone saw more writers and musicians take part than any other battle in history, including Siegfried Sassoon, Robert Graves, JRR Tolkien and Edmund Blunden. There, and on other fighting fronts, soldiers vividly chronicled their first-hand experiences through words, art and music.
Some were killed in action, bright lights of their generation such as the composer George Butterworth, another Somme casualty. The “luckier” ones were left forever with a survivor’s guilt that darkly permeated their future work. All leave an invaluable legacy, whether through poetry, memoirs, fiction or art, that helps future generations to understand the reality of war.
This special evening will include a presentation from Richard Slocombe, Senior Curator of Art at Imperial War Museum and specialist on British First World War art. It will include images from artist William Orpen, born in County Dublin, who was drafted as an official War Artist, and travelled to the Western Front where he painted and drew dead soldiers, prisoners of war and official portraits. The horrors of war took an impact on his work, and art critics noted a much more detached essence to his post-war creations. At the time of his death in 1931, Orpen was probably the best-known painter in Britain.
Weaving together powerful texts by internationally renowned poets, Wilfred Owen, Rupert Brooke, Francis Ledwidge, TM Kettle, Michael Longley, Katharine Tynan, Siegfried Sassoon and RE Vernede, and music from the Ulster Orchestra’s Brass Quintet including Butterworth, Holst, Woods and The Minstrel Boy, this moving and evocative evening will be used to see the Somme in a new light, and reflect on that terrible battle and its catastrophic human cost, in word, images and music.
Richard Slocombe is Senior Curator of Art at Imperial War Museum (IWM) having worked there as a curator since 2004. He is IWM's specialist on British First World War art, wartime poster design and graphic art and has researched, written and lectured widely on these subjects. He most recently co-curated the Peter Kennard retrospective, 'Unofficial War Artist', at IWM London, celebrating the art and career of the UK's foremost political artist www.iwm.org.uk/exhibitions/iwm-london/peter-kennard and contributed to its accompanying publication, 'Unofficial War Artist'. Prior to this Richard curated of ‘Truth and Memory’, the largest retrospective exhibition British First World War art for almost a century. He has also produced shows on the historic display of art by the IWM and the limits of artistic freedom in conflict, centred on CRW Nevinson's painting 'Paths of Glory'. In 2007, Richard also to co-curated the acclaimed exhibition 'War Posters: Weapons of Mass Communication' at IWM London. This he followed with a book in 2009, 'British Posters of the Second World War'. Richard’s work with the IWM poster collection has often involved collaboration with Manchester Metropolitan University and recently co-supervised with them an AHRC-funded Collaborative Doctoral Award studentship researching IWM’s historic ‘War Publicity’ collection, of which the poster collection originally formed a part. Richard also plays an active role in IWM's art acquisition programme and has been instrumental in securing important works by Peter Kennard, Colin Self, Shanti Panchal and John Minton.