Truth and Memory at the IWM

If I thought Manchester’s Sensory War was an excellent exploration of the impact of war on all areas of society, IWM’s two-part exhibition, Truth and Memory genuinely blew it out of the water. The opening painting ‘Defeat of the Prussian Guard’, depicting a victory by the 2nd Oxfordshire and Bucks Light Infantry*, was a perfect example of the end of stylised and sanitised record of war and a fantastic way to start an exhibition of artists who were ‘exposed to a new realm of human experience’.

Defeat of the Prussian Guard

Was thrilled to see yet another room full of Nevinson paintings.The more I see of his work, the more fascinated I become.  ‘A Bursting Shell’ needs no description as Nevinson creates the sound of the shell through his futurist leanings. The catherine wheel effect draws everything into the path of the shell, including us!Bursting Shell

There were so many outstanding paintings but two contrasting ones tell their own story: Nevinson’s ‘Paths of Glory’ was originally banned due to its depiction of the British Dead, yet it was acceptable to show the putrefying ‘Dead German Soldiers in a Trench’ by William Orpen as clearly, ‘only Germans died in this war’.  With Nevinson’s painting, the glinting of the barbed wire was almost too much to bear. You could just see the sun rising behind you, signalling the start of another day of atrocities.

                           Dead Germans in a Trench - Orpen

The other standout was the seven piece set of drypoint images by Percy Delf Smith, The Dance of Death’. It may be cliched to have the skeletal image of death stalking the earth, picking out its victims, but one of the images completely summarised the horror of the ‘war to end all wars’ -Death Awed. For Death to be amazed by the destructive qualities of man is beyond belief.

Death Awed

*Edit* Was looking through an old book on Bruegel’s paintings and his allegorical work ‘The Triumph of Death’ seems to go so well with Smith’s work that I though I would add it to this:


This is an incredible exhibition and well worth a trip -first visit to the IWM, and it won’t be the last!

*Sometimes even shock myself at ‘spooky connections’. One of my ancestors fought for the 2nd battalion and was killed in 1917 therefore is likely to have been involved in this particular battle!


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