Shop H.E. Bates Online
ID
a43
Title
War Pictures by British Artists No. 3 R.A.F.
Genre
Essay
Page Count
64
Word Count
1100
Publisher
Oxford
Publication Year
1941
Document Types
Full-text Online
Introductions, Forewards & Prefaces
Art Criticism
Topics
Pilots, War

With an introduction by H.E. Bates. London, New York, Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1942. 64 pp. One in a four-part series reproducing drawings and paintings "made by artists working under the official direction of the Admiralty on the recommendation of the Ministry of Information Artists' Advisory Committee" (back cover). The other volumes, identical in size and number of pages and also dated 1942, were I. War at Sea, with an introduction by Admiral Sir Herbert H.W. Richmond, II. Blitz, with an introduction by J.B. Morton, and IV. Army, with an introduction by Colin Coote. A second set of four volumes was published in 1943. In addition to Bates's introduction, the volume includes uncredited annotations on the reproductions; there is no reason to believe Bates contributed to the annotations. In his short introduction (attached), Bates recalls the "countryside of southern England in the summers of 1940 and 1941," made unforgettable when the skies were filled by many planes defending England. He speaks of a future official history of the R.A.F. but of the power of pictures to capture what words cannot; Bates calls particular attention to the "remarkably penetrative strength" in the pastel portraits of Eric Kennington (artist for sixteen of the works). While noting the pictures of planes, battles, and "the falling and fallen enemies," in the forty-eight pieces (by fourteen artists), Bates finds the faces "the most remarkable part" of the book, and, appropriately for a book designed to promote patriotic support of the war, he praises the understated heroism and humanity of the Royal Air Force pilots. Although Bates's introduction is very slight, he would characterize the assignment later as "one of those small interfering pokes by the hand of fate, or whatever it may be called, that was to alter the course of my life" (The Blossoming World, 176-180). Rejected in his application for a commission in the R.A.F., and having had a disastrous interview with the Ministry of Information, Bates received an invitation from Cecil Day Lewis (then at the Ministry) to look at portraits by Kennington and others related to the Battle of Britain; Bates admired Kennington's work in T.E. Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom, and "duly did my annotations and the little book was duly published. I had given it the title of You Have Seen Their Faces [after the 1937 American tribute to Southern sharecroppers]...Little though I was aware of it at the time, the title was to a degree prophetic...The opportunity to look at these faces too was now about to be given me." Bates would write in a letter to his friend David Garnet that "it seems as if this [the introduction]...might help to persuade the Air Ministry that I might be of some use."


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