For the first time in nearly 100 years, some of the art that was originally created for the first Imperial War Museum exhibition at the Crystal Palace is on show again at Epping Forest District Museum in Waltham Abbey.
Shortly after the Armistice in 1918, several artists were commissioned to create art for the Army Medical Gallery in the exhibition. Among these were local artists, Walter Spradbery and Haydn Mackey. Both were pacifists so had signed up to serve in the Royal Army Medical Corps at the outbreak of war. Their role would be to save life rather than take it but they were at no less risk of danger and death, receiving medals for their bravery in rescuing comrades under intense enemy fire.
Their experience meant they were able to create very strong paintings of their time on the front line. Spradbery’s watercolours showed the effects of war on the landscape, while Mackey produced some monumental portraits of soldiers, praised at the time as being ‘a most powerful and truthful portrayal of the conditions of modern war, eloquent in persuasion against a recurrence of such things.’
The Great War exhibition opened at the Crystal Palace on 9 June 1920. Its purpose was to record the ‘toil and sacrifice’ of Britain and the Empire in the Great War. The building was crammed with displays of artwork, weapons, models, uniforms, photographs and all manner of things connected with the war. By 1924 four million people had seen the exhibition.
When the exhibition closed some of the art remained in the collections of the Imperial War Museum when it moved to its new location. Others were transferred to the Wellcome Trust. Sketches that Spradbery made for the exhibition works are now in the collections of Epping Forest District Museum. As part of the special exhibition, ‘Walter Spradbery, Artist in War and Peace’, reproductions of some of the art including Mackey’s monumental works can be seen hanging alongside loans from the Imperial War Museum to recreate this incredible display of art and the role it played in recording the memory of the Great War for generations to come.
The exhibition ‘Artist in War and Peace: Walter Spradbery 1889 – 1969’ runs from 21 July 2018 until 22 December 2018.
Epping Forest District Museum, 39 – 41 Sun Street, Waltham Abbey, EN9 1EL Open Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday 10am to 4pm and Saturday 10am to 5pm.