National Museum Cardiff on the art of a First World War propaganda campaign

By Richard Moss | 01 August 2014

A First World War propaganda campaign that utilised some of the best artistic talents of the time goes on show at National Museum Wales

a photo of a soldier hammering a large log onto a door with war written across it
William Nicholson, The End of the War© Courtesy National Museum Wales
By May 1917 the British public had every reason to be war weary. Three years of attritional trench warfare and the bloodbath of the Battle of the Somme in 1916 ensured that the realities of the war had hit home in nearly every home and family across Britain.

It was amidst this atmosphere of attrition and wariness that the government embarked on what was then a major propaganda campaign.

The Great War: Britain’s Efforts and Ideals was commissioned by the British government in 1917 and employed the skills of some of the most celebrated artists of the day including Augustus John and Frank Brangwyn. The intention was to remind the public why we were at war.

Published in two sets of portfolios, “Ideals” and “Efforts”, the 66 lithographic prints - all of which are exhibited here - were also designed to raise support for the war effort.

The “Ideals” prints addressed the question of why Britain was at war and expressed the aims and ambitions of the war through use of allegory and symbolism with historical or mythological figures often used to communicate broader ideas and concepts.

The “Efforts” prints illustrated some of the activities of the war effort and included Christopher Nevinson’s famous set of prints, Making Aeroplanes.

Avoiding the horrors and atrocities of war, the lithographs included a Women’s Work portfolio recording the vital contribution to the war effort made by women in munitions factories, but which ignored the hardship, danger and monotony of the work.

Curator Beth McIntyre explained how although many of the government files relating to the print series were lost in a fire, she had "been able to piece together a lot of information to establish how much the artists were paid and where the prints were exhibited".

“As far as I know this is the first time that this series has been displayed in its entirety since 1920," she added. "It is a wonderfully diverse group of works, which offers a great insight in to artistic propaganda of the First World War.”

The exhibition forms part of the Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales - programme to commemorate the centenary of the First World War. Find out more on the Cymru’n Cofio - Wales Remembers 1914 – 1918 website.

Efforts and Ideals: Prints of the First World War opens at National Museum Cardiff on August 2 2014 and runs until January 7 2014.

More pictures:

a drawing of two women in work overalls
A.S. Hartrick, On the Railways, Engin and Carriageway Cleaners© Courtesy National Museum Wales
a drawing of an aeroplane banking
C.R.W. Nevison, Banking at 40,000 feet© Courtesy National Museum Wales
a drawing of fishermen in a boat wrestling with an attacking octopus
Frank Brangwyn, The Freedom of the Seas© Courtesy National Museum Wales
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