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Commemoration and Creative Responses : Art : Official war artists

An official Australian war art scheme evolved out of the publication of works of art and literature created by soldiers serving on Gallipoli in 1915. CEW Bean, an official war correspondent during the First World War, compiled a collection of stories, poems and illustrations, which was published as The Anzac Book. A number of serving soldiers, David Barker, Frank Crozier, Otho Hewitt and Cyril Leyshon, were taken off duty for a time to enable them to record the Gallipoli experience on paper for The Anzac Book. This project set a precedent for future conflicts, the work of Second World War service people appeared in Khaki and green : with the Australian Army at home and overseas.

In response to CEW Bean's recommendations, the Australian government followed the initiative of both the British and Canadian governments and instituted a war art program. Will Dyson, in 1917, was the first officially commissioned artist. H. Septimus Power, an established South Australian artist, was also appointed in 1917, and he depicted the action on the Western Front. Bean commissioned serving soldiers to depict war scenes, in the belief that individuals who had experienced war would provide the most authentic portrayal.

One of the first official artists commissioned during the Second World War was the South Australian Ivor Hele who is regarded as one of the greatest Australian war artists. Hele had been serving in North Africa when Major General Sir Thomas Blamey commissioned him in 1941 to record events in the field. Other South Australian artists to serve in the Second World War include John Goodchild and Geoffrey Mainwaring (whose recollections were recorded as an oral history and are available from the State Library's archival collections).

In 1943 the committee of the War Memorial in Canberra commissioned three Australian women as war artists; two were South Australian born - Nora Heysen and Stella Bowen. Heysen, who was the only female artist allowed to work in operational areas, began painting on the north coast of New Guinea in 1943. Her paintings there record military nurses working at a casualty station.

Bowen was living in England when she was commissioned in 1943. She was directed to provide a pictorial record of the activities of Australian forces in the United Kingdom. The War Memorial in Canberra has 46 of her war time paintings. One of her best known pieces is The Bomber Crew, 1944, a painting of seven young airmen. Before she had completed the work the plane was lost in action and she had to complete it from her sketches and photographs.

Ivor Hele : the heroic figure : [extracts]
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Nora Heysen
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Sir Ivor Hele [videorecording] : art, war and peace
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The art of H. Septimus Power
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