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Discover a range of individual experiences and expressions of identity in the First and Second World Wars depicted in paintings, drawings and pastels from the military collection at National Museums Scotland.

First World War 1914-1919

The slideshow below shows a selection of drawings and paintings made during the First World War, from the battlefield to the hospital, to munitions to the air.

  • War Art8

    This unidentified pilot was drawn by Eric Kennington, an official war artist who went out to the Western Front in 1917. The pilot flew with the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War. On display in Tools of the Trade at the National War Museum, Edinburgh Castle.

  • War Art9

    Sir Jacob Epstein served as a Private in the Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment) during the First World War. In 1919 Sir Muirhead Bone gave Epstein a personal commission to execute a portrait bust of a Scottish soldier, Sergeant David Ferguson Hunter, of the Highland Light Infantry. This is a preliminary drawing for the sculpture and the only known drawing by Epstein of a Scottish subject.

  • War Art1

    This poster by the Scottish artist Tom Curr was designed to promote fundraising for the Scottish National War Memorial, which opened in Edinburgh Castle in 1927. The location of the National War Museum, which opened in 1930, was part of the same memorial project. The painting is on display in Rewards of Industry on Level 5 of the National Museum of Scotland.

  • The Covering Party by Joseph Donovan Adam

    The Covering Party by Lance Corporal Joseph Adam, dated 1918. The Scottish Horse was a part-time yeomanry mounted regiment. During the First World War the regiment served dismounted as an infantry battalion. This is one of a series of drawings depicting the battalion on active service in Salonika, fighting the Bulgarians on the Macedonian Front.

  • War Art3

    The mass employment of women in heavy industry was a new development required for the war effort. Shell production was demanding and dangerous work, but was well-paid in comparison to more traditional women’s roles. This painting is by Arthur Knighton-Hammond, an English landscape painter. On display in In Defence at the National War Museum, Edinburgh Castle.

  • War Art4

    (Herbert) Joseph Cribb was a renowned English sculptor, who designed headstones for the Imperial War Graves Commission. This design was for the headstones of officers and men of the Seaforth Highlanders, and depicts their regimental cap badge of the stag's head and Gaelic motto 'Help the King' of the Mackenzie chief who first raised the regiment in 1793.

  • War Art5

    This humorous charcoal drawing from the First World War is by George Belcher, the Punch cartoonist. It is captioned: ‘Nurse (to Scottish Tommy): ‘You play the bagpipes, Donald, I wish you’d blow these air cushions up for me.’

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Scuttling of the German Fleet at Scapa Flow

On 21 June 1919 the crews of the German High Seas Fleet, interned at Scapa Flow, Orkney, took advantage of lax security to scuttle the entire fleet before their ships could be handed over to the British under the terms of the Versailles peace treaty.

This action, following the momentous surrender of the German Fleet in the Firth of the Forth in November 1918, was the dramatic and bitter conclusion of the First World War.

The Scottish setting - at the Royal Navy's key naval base - demonstrates the strategic importance of Scotland in the naval rivalry between Great Britain and Germany in two world wars.

This painting is an eyewitness account of the scuttling of the Fleet - there are few photographs recording the scene. The artist, Bernard Gribble, had earlier witnessed the Fleet's dramatic entry into the Forth and was present by chance as the German crews sunk their own ships.

Second World War 1939-1945

The slideshow below shows a selection of paintings and images from the Second World War.

  • War Art7

    Magazine picture of a painting by Dame Laura Knight depicting Corporal Elspeth Henderson and another WAAF decorated for bravery. Henderson was awarded the Military Medal for her bravery during an air raid at RAF Biggin Hill on 1st September 1940. She carried on with her vital job even after the building she was working on received a direct hit from a bomb. On display in Fortunes of War at National Museum of Flight, East Fortune.

  • War Art6

    Captain Benjamin Bryant DSO, DSC, Royal Navy, by the Scottish artist Robert Sivell. Ben Bryant was one of the most successful British submarine commanders of the Second World War. This portrait was painted in 1945 when he was commanding the 3rd Submarine Flotilla at HMS Forth, the submarine depot ship in the Holy Loch, Firth of Clyde.

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    Ian Eadie was an unofficial war artist who served with the 51 Highland Division from 1940-45. This 1946 oil painting depicts the destruction and desolation he saw in 1944 at Ouistreham, a village on the River Orne in Normandy, France. The painting is on display in In Defence at the National War Museum, Edinburgh Castle.

  • Il200418 006630

    Short Stirlings – The Return of MacRobert’s Reply, 1941 by Charles Cundall. This aircraft was named ‘MacRobert’s Reply’ in memory of two brothers, both pilots, killed in 1941 on active service with the Royal Air Force. The MacRobert family crest and badge can be seen on the side of the aircraft. It was named at the request of Lady MacRobert, who donated £25,000 to pay for a bomber as ‘a mother’s immediate reply’ to the loss of her sons. On display at the National War Museum.

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Artist biographies

You can find out more about the artists behind the works from the First and Second World Wars held in the military collection of National Museums Scotland here.

George Belcher (1875-1947)

George Belcher was an English cartoonist, etcher and painter of genre, sporting subjects and still life. He studied at the Gloucester School of Art. He drew for the Punch Almanac from 1906 and for Punch itself regularly from 1911; and also for The Tatler and Vanity Fair.

Herbert Joseph Cribb (1892-1967)

Herbert Joseph Cribb's career as an artist began when he was fourteen. He was recruited by Eric Gill as an assistant in 1906 and was taught letter cutting and masonry skills. He completed his apprenticeship in 1913, but continued working with Gill until his army service in France, 1916-1919.

During the later part of his army service he joined the Directorate of Graves Registration and Enquiries (forerunner of the Imperial War Graves Commission) to design war grave tombstones featuring regimental badges.

Charles Cundall (1890-1971)

Cundall studied at Manchester School of Art, obtaining a scholarship to the Royal College of Art in 1912. A painter, potter and stained glass artist, he also worked as a designer for Pilkington's Pottery Company under Gordon Forsyth. After his First World War army service he returned to the Royal College in 1918, then from 1919 to 1920 he attended the Slade School of Art, then furthered his studies in Paris. He was an Official War Artist in the Second World War, during which time he was sent to Quebec in 1944 .

When working on large panoramic canvases his technical ability was remarkable. His pictures are rich with texture, light and movement. He was equally at ease with aerial views, landscapes, seascapes and cityscapes, and was a master of crowd scenes.

Thomas Curr (1887–1958)

Tom Curr was one of Scotland’s most successful and accomplished commercial artists and cartoonists. With the exception of the First World War, he spent his working life in the employment of the Leith-based printers McLagan & Cumming, producing a wide range of tourism and  advertising posters. Many of the army recruiting posters he produced for the firm are on display at National War Museum in Edinburgh Castle.

Ian Eadie (1913-1973)

Painter, muralist and teacher, Eadie showed an early talent for drawing. He left Harris Academy as Dux Medallist in Art and from 1931 he studied under J. Milne Purvis at Dundee College of Art, gaining his diploma after three years.

During the Second World War, Eadie joined the Gordon Highlanders and served as the unofficial war artist with the 51st (Highland) Division. His work was eventually taken by the Imperial War Museum and public galleries in Aberdeen, Dundee and Glasgow, and can also  be seen in the collections of regiments which formed the Division. The National War Museum has several examples of his wartime work, including pictures he produced while on active service in Normandy  in 1944.

His series of Second World War portraits of members of the Home Guard is well-known. His portrait of Lance-Corporal Robertson of the Edinburgh Home Guard is on display at the National War Museum.

Sir Jacob Epstein (1880-1959)

American born Sir Jacob Epstein served as a Private in the Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment) during the First World War. He was never appointed official war artist as his pre-war work was regarded as controversial. By 1920 he had become probably the most notorious modern artist working in Britain, condemned for the stylized treatment of form in some works and and for what was held to be gratuitous nudity in others.

Bernard Gribble (1872 – 1962)

Bernard Gribble was a full-time painter in oils and watercolours and studied at South Kensington Art School under Albert Toft. Although his work included landscapes of Poole and portraits, Gribble was best known as a painter of historical maritime scenes.

US President Franklin D Roosevelt purchased his Surrender of the German Fleet to the Grand Fleet at Scapa Flow. In his capacity as Official Maritime Painter to the Shipwrights' Company, Gribble had been one of the few civilian witnesses to this event in 1918, as the interned German fleet was transferred from the Firth of Forth to the main British naval base in the Orkney Islands.

Eric Kennington (1888-1960)

Eric Kennington was an English sculptor, artist and illustrator, and an official war artist in both the First and Second World Wars. He studied at Lambeth School of Art and his best known graphic works are the many figure studies and portraits he made as an official war artist from 1917-1919, when he worked mainly in pastels.

Dame Laura Knight  (1877-1970)

An English Impressionist painter, Knight is best known for painting the world of London's theatre, ballet and circus. In 1929, she was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, and in 1936 she became the first woman elected to the Royal Academy.

During the Second World War, Knight was an official war artist. She worked on several commissions for the Ministry of Information's War Artists Advisory Committee, and she was one of only three British women war artists who travelled abroad. After the war, she was the official artist at the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi war criminals.

Arthur H Knighton-Hammond (1875-1970)

Knighton-Hammond was an English painter best known for landscapes, society portraits and industrial paintings. Knighton-Hammond used a variety of styles but is most famous as a water-colourist.

Robert Sivell (1888-1958)

Robert Sivell attended Glasgow School of Art in 1908 and during the First World War worked for a time as an engineer and served in the Merchant Navy. Sivell was a founder member of the Glasgow Society of Painters and Sculptors, a society formed to rival the Royal Glasgow Institute. He was head of drawing and painting at Gray's School of Art, Aberdeen. During the second World War, Sivell was was a member of the War Artists Advisory Committee.

Short Stirlings - The Return of Macrobert's Reply on loan courtesy of the Royal Air Force Museum, London.

Royal Air Force

Header image: Scuttling the German Fleet at Scapa Flow by war artist Bernard Gribble.

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