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What's On, Culture, Art

The Art of World War II Exhibition

At the Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum


An exhibition of diverse, original artwork, all produced during, and depicting scenes from the Second World War, will go on display at the Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum, Woodstock, from 25th February to 7th May 2023.

The exhibition first went on display at the museum in March 2020, but was open for less than a week before national lockdowns were put in place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic - meaning many will now get the opportunity to see these historic pieces for the first time.

The Art of World War II exhibition has been curated from John Noott’s personal collection of artwork, gathered together during his career as an art collector and dealer for over 40 years. Drawn together, the art forms a history in pictures of the Second World War while showcasing incredibly personal perspectives which reflect a varied range of experiences before, during, and after the conflict. Through the work of artists of the time, visitors will see the war unfold ‘as it happened’.

Visitors to the exhibition will be able to see a view of Dunkirk as troops are evacuated, painted by a nephew of Winston Churchill, John Spencer Churchill, a reflection of what he had witnessed during his own army service. The artist would return to England to inform his uncle personally of the need for boats to assist in rescuing the troops there.

Elsewhere, the plight of both evacuees and refugees is seen as artists of the time depict the many people displaced by war, such as those coming to Britain as part of the Kindertransport rescue programme in the build up to the Second World War.

The artists whose work is included in the collection range from skilled amateurs to professionals, from those already renowned at the time to those who would go on to make a name for themselves in a post-war world. A sketch by Eduardo Paolozzi, better known as a pioneering pop-artist, contrasts newly arrived American troops with a typical Oxford scene of a student cycling through the city with the famous skyline as a backdrop. The artist faced discrimination and later internment under the Enemy Aliens Act, along with many of his family, when they moved to Britain from Italy.

The exhibition also features art from Vogue fashion illustrators forced to flee Paris, and Beano cartoonists that turned their hand to cartography to aid General Montgomery in North Africa.

Collector John Noott also knows how wide-reaching the impact of the war was on a personal level, having grown up in wartime Britain. He was seven years old in 1939, and remembers clearly many nights in air raid shelters and his father’s service with the Local Defence Volunteers after work (later to become the Home Guard, or ‘Dad’s Army’). These lived experiences inspired him to gather the collection throughout his own career. Following this first exhibition since the pandemic, John will make the collection available to hire for exhibition at museums and venues around the country as we approach the 80th anniversary of the end of WW2.

The Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum is open from Tuesday-Saturday 11am-5pm and Sunday 2pm-5pm. The county’s own military history museum is located in the gardens of the Oxfordshire Museum, Park Street, Woodstock, on the doorstep of Blenheim palace.


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