Approaching Thunder: 1940s BRITAIN BETWEEN ART & LITERATURE

Saturday 23 September 2017, 12.30 - 3.30pm, £15, £10 Members, £7.50 Students

Explore the connections between modernist writing, drawing, printmaking and publishing between 1939 and 1950 through talks and discussion featuring researchers Sophie Hatchwell (University of Bristol), Gill Saunders (Victoria and Albert Museum, London), Sara Wasson (University of Lancaster), and chaired by The Hepworth Wakefield Assistant Curator Hilary Floe.

This study day will touch upon the shared concerns of artists and writers at the time, from trauma and austerity to national identities and stylistic revivalism.

This event is part of our Wakefield Litfest programme.


Book your place online or call 01924247360. A proportion or allocated places are offered to Members at the discounted rate of 25% off, sold on a first come, first served basis. Become a Member.

About the talks

Sara Wasson: Now the Darkness is a Time of Dread: Gothic Representation and the Sensory Geography of Wartime Britain

In popular parlance, the Second World War home front is often a shorthand for a particualar kind of heroic camaraderie – the ‘Blitz spirit’, resilience, and unity during adversity. Yet much experience of the time was far more complex and strange.  In this talk, I will look at some of the darker sides of this period in history, both in terms of human suffering on the home front and in terms of the eerie and surreal sensory environments that characterised many home front sites.  At moments, as  Mary Désiree Anderson says, the darkened home front became ‘a time of dread'.

Sophie Hatchwell: Letters from the Home Front: non-commissioned artists correspondence in the Second World War

Hatchwell's paper takes as its starting point the correspondence of artists working outside of official war-time systems of patronage, including Robert Colquhoun, Robert MacBryde and Keith Vaughan. It looks at how their letters provide an insight into their experiences of and responses to the conflict, and the ways in which this correspondence can then frame new readings of their work from the 1940s. These works are contextualised by comparison and contrast to that of commissioned artists such as Henry Moore.

Gill Saunders: Recording Britain: defining a national identity?

Recording Britain was a unique documentary project initiated by Sir Kenneth Clark at the start of the Second World War, whereby artists were commissioned to make inspiring pictures as ‘sympathetic records of the vanishing or changing face of Britain’. The resulting collection of 1500-odd watercolours and drawings (now in the V&A) presents an idea of Britain – or more accurately, England – that conforms to a very conservative view of national identity, one that found echoes in the polemic of writers such as J.B. Priestley and George Orwell, but also reflected the themes of contemporary patriotic propaganda. The pictures themselves eschew modernism and the avant-garde and instead represent the mainstream of the topographical watercolour tradition, itself a peculiarly English art.

ABOUT the speakers

Sara Wasson (Lancaster University) specialises in national Gothic and the discourse of trauma, and contemporary science fiction examined through a medical humanities lens.  Her book Urban Gothic of the Second World War examines how period writing in the Gothic mode subverts the dominant national narratives of the British home front, marking moments of fracture in the national mythologies of wartime home, city and fellowship. The book won the Allan Lloyd Smith Memorial Prize from the International Gothic Association and was shortlisted for the ESSE Award for Cultural Studies in English.  She has also co-edited the collection Gothic Science Fiction, 1980-2010 (Liverpool University Press, 2011), she has published articles in edited collections and journals including Gothic Studies, The Journal of Popular Culture and The Journal of Stevenson Studies.

Sophie Hatchwell (University of Bristol) is an historian of visual culture, whose research centres on art writing and display in Britain in the 20th century. Her current project, funded by a Barnes-Graham Research Support Grant investigates the work of Scottish artists Robert Colqhoun and Robert MacBryde. Accompanying publications in the field of 20th century British art on Walter Sickert, Lucian Freud and Stanley Spencer, this project responds to the intellectual core of Sophie's research practice: how is our experience of art informed and governed by art writing? Sophie has taught History of Art in a number of institutions, including Bristol School of Art, University of Birmingham, and University of Bristol, where she is currently based. 

Gill Saunders is Senior Curator in the Word & Image Department of the Victoria & Albert Museum, specialising in 20th-century and contemporary prints and drawings. Her recent publications include Recording Britain (V&A, 2011), a series of essays on 20th-century and contemporary representations of the English landscape, and Bawden, Ravilious and the Artists of Great Bardfield (V&A, 2015, co-edited with Malcolm Yorke). Her recent projects include a V&A touring exhibition, Pop Art in Print. She is currently preparing a book on seaside holiday posters (due 2018). She writes, lectures and broadcasts regularly on 20th-century and contemporary art.


Image: Henry Moore, Four Grey Sleepers, 1941. Courtesy of the Hepworth Wakefield (Wakefield Permanent Art Collection.


  • 23 September 2017