Paul Nash: © Crown Copyright. This material has been published under an Open Government Licence.
Eric Kennington: © Family of the Artist. Published under a Creative Commons Non-Commercial Licence.
British Artists at the Front was a publication series created in 1918 by Wellington House – also known as the War Propaganda Bureau. The Bureau was overseen by Charles Masterman, head of wartime propaganda, at the instruction of the British government. Each volume features the work of the following official British War Artists, as commissioned by Masterman: C R W Nevinson, Sir John Lavery, Paul Nash and Eric Kennington. The publication displayed some outstanding artwork, and helped to cement the artists’ reputations in Britain, France and the US.
Notably, Wellington House is not named in these pages. The series was published by Country Life, thus apparently providing a neutral, dissociated front for the Propaganda Bureau. Much of Wellington House’s work was clandestine and its activities did not become public knowledge until the 1930s. Masterman favoured ‘truthful’ propaganda – work that was grounded in ‘honest’ depictions of the war. In reality, however, the artists were directed by Wellington House to paint particular scenes and events. Famously in the case of Nevinson’s Paths of Glory, some of their artwork was censored.
Employing many writers and artists, the Bureau’s main remit was to disseminate propaganda abroad in order to gain the support of allied and neutral countries – particularly the US. The Bureau was later incorporated into the Ministry of Information, centralising all propaganda activities.