Mervyn Peake's war paintings unveiled

National Archives exhibit unseen works to mark centenary

Best known for his Gormenghast Trilogy, Mervyn Peake was also an accomplished war artist, who created devastating images in the aftermath of the Second World War, including many inspired by his visit to the liberated Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Less well known, however, is that Peake was commissioned by the War Ministry in 1940 to create a series of paintings showing victims of war atrocities as Hitler might have drawn them. According to the Guardian newspaper, Peake 'suggested to the Ministry of Information that they be published as a propaganda leaflet, presented as an illustrated catalogue for an exhibition by Hitler, complete with a title-page showing an artist's palette pierced by the barrel of a rifle, and banal titles such as "Family group" and "Still life" and "Reclining figure" for the shocking images. Surprisingly the government accepted the idea, paid the perennially broke artist 140 guineas for the works, and proposed to print 100,000 copies and distribute them across South America.'

The government later changed its mind, but because they had already been sold, Peake was never able to exhibit or publish the images. The National Archives in Kew, West London, is exhibiting a selection of these extraordinary images in its free museum until the end of the year. Click here for more details.

Sales of our reissued edition of the Gormenghast Trilogy, illustrated by Peter Harding, are a pleasing indication of the continued relevance of Peake's literary vision. Click here for more details.

last modified: Mon, Sep 12th 2011Bookmark and Share
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