Women at war: The female British artists who were written out of history

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Arifa Akbar – The Independent – Tuesday, 12 April, 2011 (originally published 8 April)

Images of war, rendered on canvas, have traditionally been presented to us in the most morbid forms: John Singer Sargent’s chilling trench portrait of blinded troops in Gassed, Picasso’s orgy of civil-war violence in Guernica, bloodied battlefields and frontlines from which artists capture live conflict as bombs whizz past them.

What is not so well documented is the women who work on war’s hinterland, both as artists and as subjects. Few would be able to name a female counterpart to Sargent – it is assumed that a creative response to such violent destruction can only be delivered from a male perspective, a Siegfried Sassoon or a Rupert Brooke crouching in a foreign field.

Yet women have, since the turn of the 20th century, been interpreting and illustrating war, casting a fascinating light on the forgotten social, industrial and personal histories born from conflict which, while not as graphic as the front line, are invaluable in fleshing out a fuller picture of the human cost of war. . .

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