The position of “war artist” may sound old-fashioned, but not only does it have a respectable pedigree, it is thriving. Before the camera was invented, war artists would often record heroic scenes of battle, or daily life in the Forces. Later, during the First World War, artists such as Paul Nash exposed the horrors of trench warfare. Henry Moore’s sketches of the London Blitz depicted civilians sleeping on London Underground platforms and succeeded both as historic records and aesthetically moving works of art. Some, like Scottish artist Peter Howson, who was sent to Bosnia by the Imperial War Museum and The Times in 1993, were badly traumatised themselves by the horrors they had to record.
Over the years, many countries – including the UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the US, France, Germany, Japan and China – have sent artists into war zones. But why is this still necessary in the 21st century, when we “see” war on a nightly basis on our television screens?