The Museum has one of the largest collections of aviation art in the world, amounting to more than 7,000 works in all media including several dozen pieces of sculpture. It has been built up since the 1960s, mostly by donation and purchase, and includes a small number of specially commissioned paintings. It also holds, on loan, the Royal Air Force’s portion of the collection built up by the War Artists’ Advisory Committee covering the activities of the Service in the Second World War. These 300 plus pictures were retained by the old Air Ministry and are now owned by the Ministry of Defence.
The collection as a whole covers a wide time period from the earliest days of aviation before the First World War to modern times, and includes military flying, aircraft types, Service life, portraits, airfields, buildings and equipment, recruiting material, and reflections on all aspects of aerial conflict. There is some coverage of civil aviation, much of it in the form of airline posters.
The possibility of conquering the air, and flying like birds have for millennia, captured the imagination of artists from the early years of the twentieth century. Aviation, aeroplanes and the genuine bird’s eye view, as opposed to the imagined perspective of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, became popular subjects for artists until after the Second World War. The devastating use of air power during the War culminating in the attacks on Germany and Japan in 1945 seems to have made the subject more controversial for artists. Thereafter, aviation art has, to a significant degree, become more illustrative, more commercially populist, and less the concern of those who use it as the starting point for the expression of the artistic imagination.
Nevertheless, the Museum’s collection includes many gems: amongst the portraitists, William Orpen, William Rothenstein and Albert AnthonyHouthuesen; amongst the unusual aspects of the Service, Sybil Andrews, Leslie Cole and Rosamund Alice Elgar, and amongst the aircraft painters, Roy Anthony Nockolds and Frank Wootton. Of those who were gripped by the magic of the air, Christopher Nevinson, in his early work, Richard and Sydney William Carline, Alan Sorrell and Enrico Castello should be mentioned. Many works of similar quality, but which were executed in media not included in the Public Catalogue Foundation’s project, are also represented in the collection.
Material from the collection is displayed at the Museum’s headquarters site at Hendon in north-west London and at its Midlands out-station at Cosford. A substantial portion is also on loan to the Ministry of Defence and Service units.
Andrew Cormack, Keeper of Fine Art
Text source: PCF / Royal Air Force Museum
This description was originally written for a catalogue.