The Hay Wain at war

Since watching the BBC video on Paul Nash, I’ve started taking some tentative steps into looking at war art other than photography, mostly paintings but with some other media too. I had also hoped to get to a gallery in Brittany whilst I was there that was showing some paintings on WWI from local artists (i.e. Breton ones), I failed in that respect but I do hope to get to the Tate show Conflict, Time, Photography when it’s on… (I have the catalogue on pre-order at least)

Back to the point, I’ve been looking at painted art and recently saw the piece 
Southern England, 1944 – Spitfires attacking Flying Bombs by Thomas Monnington. My first reaction was that the plane was too low, flying below the tree line. But after that, the details of the typical bucolic countryside with cows in the fields started to register before realising that actually, no, this is not quite a view of a traditional English vista  with added warplanes; the cart is abandoned in the river, the farmer and his horses nowhere in sight. The hay wain is, what appears to me, a reference to Constable’s painting of that name, but here the war is showing an effect on the land, one that had not seen any real and direct signs of battle since The Battle of Preston more than 200 years previously (depending on your definition of “battle” of course). This is not the only time that The Hay Wain has made a showing in an image of conflict, with Paul Kennard creating a photomontage of the painting with cruise missiles.

Liz Wells briefly discussed Kennard’s appropriation in her book 
Land Matters; how Constable’s painting became “an icon of the English pastoral. The scene has come to connote Englishness.” (Wells, p21). Kennard’s montage, and also Monnington’s painting for that matter, introduces a threat to that idyll, something to threaten everyday life; total nuclear armageddon or the random death from an indiscriminate and unguided “doodlebug”.

The landscape genre will be something I will be coming back to after I’ve finished what I suspect will be a brief dalliance in to appropriation and what has become 
Victory and Some Unholy War.  In fact, I’ve already returned there during my recent trip to France, and I will have to post something from it soon, but first I need to finish to give Victory a bit of a polish from what I concluded Task 1 with, and also bring Some Unholy War to a conclusion during Task 2.

Anyway, here are the three images I’ve been talking about, in chronological order:

John Constable. The Hay Wain. 1821. Oil on canvas. 130.2 x 185.4cm (Source: Wikipedia –
Thomas Monnington. Southern England, 1944 – Spitfires Attacking Flying Bombs. 1944. Oil on canvas. 105.4 x 143.3cm. (Source: IWM
Peter Kennard. Haywain with Cruise Missiles. 1980. Chromolithograph on paper and photographs on paper. 26 x 37.5cm (Source: The Tate –

Wells, L. (2011) 
Land Matters: landscape photography, culture and identity. London. IB Tauris & Co Ltd.

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