Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Roster of World War I British Ship Camouflage Artists

Dazzle-painted ship models being tested (c1919)
Above This historic photograph was presumably taken in London at the Royal Academy of Arts at Burlington House, where a British Dazzle Section was set up by artist Norman Wilkinson in June 1917. It was published at the end of the war, such as, for example, in the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News (February 1, 1919 issue).

There is also a print of it in the online collection in the US National Archives and Records Administration (NARA 165-WW-70C-009) where it is listed as having been obtained on February 17, 1919, and as having been provided by the Western Newspaper Union.

According to various accounts, (among them Nicholas Rankin's A Genius for Deception) there were four teams involved in the design, testing and application of British dazzle camouflage schemes: At Burlington House, there were three modelers who constructed foot-long models of merchant ships; there were five RNVR lieutenants who made colored diagrams of potentially effective schemes; and there were eleven women art students who painted those schemes on the models.

The photograph above records the subsequent testing stage, in which one of the lieutenants (on the right) is peering through an instrument that simulates a German U-boat gunner's view through a periscope. On the left is one of the women assistants, who is standing beside a small turntable, on which a ship model can be rotated in any direction to any degree. (Nearer, in the center foreground and on the table on the right, are apparently larger striped ship models; while in the center background, behind the woman, are other finished models on shelves.) If estimates of the ship model's course, as assessed by experts, were substantially inaccurate, its design might then be applied to an actual ship in the harbor. In the harbors, there were ten RNVR dock officers (usually artists) who supervised the painting of the dazzle designs onto actual full-scale ships.

Recently, through the dutiful detective work of British historian James Taylor (whose new book DAZZLE: Disguise and Disruption in War and Art, will be released this fall), there may now be a complete list of those artists who fulfilled the roles described above. Here is the list he's provided (not in particular order, my links added)—

Norman Wilkinson (1878-1971). Cecil George Charles King (1881-1942). Leonard Campbell Taylor (1874-1969). Jan Gordon [Godfrey Jervis Gordon] (1882-1944). Charles William Wyllie (1853-1923). (Reginald) Guy Kortright (1876-1948). Bryan Hook (1856-1925). Charles Johnson Payne [called Snaffles] (1884-1967). Julius Olsson (1864-1942). Frank Henry Algernon Mason (1875-1965). Montague Dawson (1890-1973). Christopher Clark (1875-1942). Steven Spurrier (1878-1961). Edward Alexander Wadsworth (1889-1949). Hubert Alington Yockney (1888-1969). (Robert) Oswald Moser (1874-1953). Nigel Bruce Severn (1871-1946). Montague Smyth (1863-1965).

Were there others?