Conscience and Conflict: British Artists and the Spanish Civil War || Simon Martin

The Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939 was one of the most politically and socially significant events of the early twentieth century. It came in the wake of the 1928 stock market crash and the subsequent depression and against the backdrop of the rise of Fascism in Germany and Italy. With the current economic situation and conflict in the Middle East, it has echoes even today.

With a rise of left-wing politics, and considerable flirtation with Communism (before the excesses of Stalin were public knowledge), the whole thing was a heady and explosive mix and many young men and women set out to fight with the Republicans.

Back home, the Expressionist and Abstract art movements, similarly politically motivated, also took up the cause and some memorable artworks and posters were produced. Many of the artists also took part in demonstrations and the book includes a substantial photographic archive. Although we remember the conflict, the art behind it has been largely forgotten, probably as much because it was so much a product of its time as due to changing fashions in art – Expressionism can seem a little heady and heavy today.

This book, which complements exhibitions at the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester and the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle, brings together a wealth of material, including paintings, posters and photographs to tell the story of the time. Works illustrated include those by Edward Burra, Clive Branson, Henry Moore and Pablo Picasso (not a British artist, of course, but inseparable from the conflict that Stephen Spender described as “the poets’ war”).

This book is a major, painstaking and comprehensive work that does its subject full justice and makes sure that a significant period in European politics and art is not fragmented by the passage of time.

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