Monday, June 25, 2018

Herbert Barnard John Everett | An Interview in 1919

William Orpen, Portrait of John Everett (c1900)
In earlier posts, we've praised the wartime paintings of dazzle-painted ships by British artist [Herbert Barnard] John Everett (1876-1949). Many of his paintings are in the collection of the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich UK. The painting reproduced above is not a painting by Everett, but a portrait of him by William Orpen (c1900). Shown below is one of Everett's paintings of camouflaged ships, titled Convoy (1918). Both works by Orpen and Everett are in the collection of the National Maritime Museum, and are listed by Wikipedia as public domain.

According to art historian Gwen Yarker

In the spring of 1918 he [Everett] was commissioned by the Ministry of Information to complete some drawings and paintings of wartime London docks and the Thames which were subsequently exhibited in America.

In connection with that American exhibition and a subsequent one in London, Anne Morton Lane (London correspondent for the New York Mail and Express) interviewed Everett and prepared a substantial news article. Published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch (Richmond VA) on Monday, January 13, 1919, p. 7, the article was accompanied by a portrait photograph of Everett (not shown here).

Reprinted below is the entire article—

Interesting Story Is Told in Pictures, the Work of Artist John Everett
Ship Painting in War Time Proves One of Many Methods Used by Entente Seamen to Puzzle German U-Boat Commanders

LONDON, January 12—Recently there was begun an exhibition in New York of pictures which have received the sanction of the British government to be shown outside Great Britain.

They are the work of John Everett, a highly interesting and distinguished English artist, who has made a specialty of seascapes and pictures of ships on the high seas and at rest in docks.

Early in the war, when the use of camouflage as applied to shipping became a special and practical portion of defense at sea, as the camouflage of guns, airplanes, munition sheds and other machinery of battles became a component part of war on land, Mr. Everett saw the wonderful possibilities that might accrue from a record of the commerce afloat as a pictorial history in color.

As we all know, now that hostilities have ceased, the mystery that, surrounded all ports and shipping in the allied countries was a necessary as it was dense. Therefore, it was only after many weary months that Mr. Everett, through personal persuasion, practical influence and genuine hard work, was accorded the privilege of His Majesty’s government of visiting the great docks of London and Liverpool, in order that he might make pictures of the amazing transformation, wrought by paint and scientific knowledge upon the units of the fleet.


And now that the U-boats have ceased from troubling and the submarines are at rest within British waters, by permission of the government, Mr. Everett is now able to display the fruit of his two or three years work in dockyards, at exhibitions in London and New York.

I went to see Mr. Everett the other day in his interesting and remarkable studio, which is situated off the beaten track of general traffic in a sort of side-tracked field in St John’s Wood, a well-known artists’ quarter of suburban London.

This studio of Mr. Everett’s is a converted barn of great size and with unusual lighting qualifications. Its walls are lined and a large portion of the floor space filled with pictures of ships.

All these ships display camouflage designs, and they represent many vessels that have plied their way between England and America in wartime, but also to many thousands, who have heard of the strange masquerading of ships on the high seas.

In England the painting and designing of sea-going vessels has been carried on under the direction of a department known colloquially as the “dazzle office,” and Mr. Everett was appointed as it illustrator.

Now that the curtain is being lifted from some of the amazing secrets of the admiralty and War Office, Mr. Everett has many interesting things to relate concerning the art of “dazzle-painting” as used, and the possibility of its continuation after the war.


“Although the word camouflage is an excellent one that has been adopted by the Anglo-Saxon tongue since its uses in war time have been discovered,” said Mr. Everett. “I think that the descriptive title of “dazzle ship” is much more illustrative when applied to the use of this art at sea.

And, after all, it is not a very new ideas, because we are told that the Ancient Greeks painted their ships with big eyes and cheeks upon their bows to give them a terrifying expression of wisdom that might serve to confound their enemies.

But we moderns did better than this in war time: we had out ships painted in such a way that their strange colorings, and curious stripings and curves would puzzle the enemy and serve to give rise to uncertainty by dazzling the eyes of the watchful foe.

In fact, as I very early discovered in my work as official artist to the dazzle department, the object of ship painting in war time has really very little to do with the real meaning of the French word camouflage, which means the dissimulation of natural objects with the landscape by protective coloring.

Dazzle-painting was invented by the well-known sea painter, Lieutenant-Commander Norman Wilkinson, RNVR, and it is the only system which has practically solved the problem of the variation of light, and which attains its object not only eluding the submarine by invisibility, but by confusing its observers.


“By recognizing the limitations of paint, the art of dazzle as applied to ocean-going ships, pushes back these limitations as far as possible and makes the object of its being not invisibility but distortion: It makes the problem of calculating the course of a vessel extremely difficult.

Each design, as you will notice in the many pictures I have painted of ships, is entirely different from the other. No two dazzle-ships are alike in detail, either in color design, and the success of Commander Wilkinson’s inventions were so marked during all the weary war time months, that they were adopted by every entente nation with a marine service.

I think that this is one of the reasons why my pictures when they are seen in New York will be of extreme interest to Americans. They will then be able to see exactly the source from which came all those wonder ships that braved the perils of the sea during the past four years.

I have shown my portraits of these masquerading voyagers in English waters and British docks—settings that perhaps will be better appreciated nowadays in the New World, because it is so closely linked in these days with the old.”


Among the pictures which will be seen by permission of the British government are HMS Victorian Bringing a Convoy of American Troops into London. Mr. Everett told me that this ship was afterwards torpedoed. She was hit amidships, but by some miracle she was brought into port and no lives were lost. Another picture is of the steamship Shuma discarding timber.

“This,” explained Mr. Everett. “is a ship with an interesting dazzle, showing a great deal of light sky-blue picked out with black and white.” Another ship shows a dazzled flour ship, and another the conversion of the Cunard steamship Nanerig into an armored cruiser.

Those and many other pictures of a like kind display with extraordinary clearness something of the practical side of what those who have “gone down to the sea in ships” have had to do in order to confound the enemy.

John Everett, Convoy (1918)

There is something very dramatic about these pictures of Mr. Everett’s. They give the story of the life of the sea, and the traffic across that great grim stretch of water between England and America with wonderful vividness. The artist confesses that these pictures, painted under circumstances both difficult and dangerous, are the most fascinating work he has ever undertaken.

“The painting of these pictures, which I regard as a sort of diary of the merchant service at sea during war time,” he said, “has given me an immense belief in, and admiration for, this dazzle theory; the whole point of it has been the deception of the submarine as to the course of the ship, thus causing a miscalculation of her distance. You ask me if the dazzle ships will die with war-time; I suppose for practical purposes they will do so.

But it seems to me a pity, for undoubtedly they have lent a beauty and color of ocean-going vessels and have transformed dirty old tramp steamers into objects of remarkable harmony of shape and hue.”

Certainly amongst the strange records which the war leaves behind it, these paintings of “dazzle ships” by John Everett will not be among the least curious. It has been suggested that the dazzled colors might still be used in peace time, not to distort, but to emphasize shipping. As Mr. Everett himself suggests, it certainly might be diverted from its past uses to the purpose of making a ship’s course more clear and thus bringing about an avoidance of collisions.


Note Art historian Gwen Yarker (cited above) is one of seven speakers at a day-long "dazzle study day" that will take place from 9:30 am to 4:45 pm on Saturday, June 30 at the University of South Hampton, UK.  She will be speaking about John Everett's paintings of camouflaged ships.