National Archives publishes World War II poster and art collection on Wikimedia

By Richard Moss | 13 June 2012 | Updated: 14 June 2012
a painting of soldiers attacking a beach
S. Whitear, [Victory]...depends on overwhelming striking force© Courtesy the National Archives
It has sometimes been a difficult relationship, but the developing union between the museums, galleries and heritage sector and Wikimedia Commons seems to be improving as the National Archives becomes the latest institution to offer their images to the site.

Hundreds of original wartime art works from the National Archive’s stunning collection of more than 2,000 pieces by war artists, working for the Ministry of Information during the Second World War, have been put online thanks to a digitisation grant from Wikimedia UK.  

The first 350 images comprise some rarely-seen classics from the Ministry of Information’s propaganda war, including Drake Brookshaw’s beautiful Apple Picking and several rousing pieces by Terence Cuneo, such as his dramatic reimagining of the assassination of the SS General, Reinhardt Heydrich and a typically lively imagining of a tank battle.

Dame Laura Knight also makes an appearance with a rarely seen depiction of a land girl together with many anonymous or little known exhortations relating to fuel economy, agricultural production, recycling, patriotism and the general war effort.

The set is also rich in portraits of wartime leaders, with General Montgomery, General Alexander and Air Chief Marshall Tedder represented.

National Archives, who are hoping the Wikimedia Community will help them identify some paintings and enrich knowledge about the collection, say they would like to ultimately put the whole World War II art collection online.

“The generosity of Wikimedia UK has enabled us to open up the extraordinary work of these, sometimes obscure artists, to the widest possible audience online,” says Jo Pugh, Education Technical Officer at The National Archives.

“They are an often overlooked part of Britain’s war effort but their themes resonate down the decades. I hope this is the first step in an ongoing collaboration that will enhance both the Archives' knowledge of our own collections and Wikipedia itself.”

There is a growing willingness - if not the resource - within the museums and gallery sector to share content with the public via Wikimedia. This latest move follows other notable institutions like the Mary Rose Trust, who published scores of objects from the famous Tudor wreck site on Wikimedia Commons in January 2010.

The British Museum took the lead with a Wikipedian in Residence in June 2010, and the Collections Trust and the V&A also backed a 2010 campaign, Britain Loves Wikipedia, to get more museum-held content on Wikipedia.

More Pictures:

a poster with the sillhouettes of three soldiers down the ages
Pat Keely, We beat 'em before. We will beat 'em again© Courtesy the National Archives

a painting of a man and a woman picking appples from a tree in an orchard
Drake Brookshaw, Apple Picking© Courtesy the National Archives

a paintig of a tank hidden in foliage shooting towards a tank in flames on a hillside
Terence Cuneo, Tank battle© Courtesy the National Archives

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