Fans of postwar architecture look upon the Barbican Estate as one of the few positives to emerge from the destruction wrought by the Blitz on London during World War II.
It seems fitting, therefore, that this iconic corner of the City should be the site of a new exhibition exploring how artists and photographers responded to the devastation caused by eight months of intensive aerial bombing attacks between September 1940 and May 1941.
Perspectives of Destruction: Images of London, 1940-44 is the Museum of London’s new exhibition that brings together art and photography documenting the Capital during and after the Blitz.
At the heart of the exhibition are nine recently acquired drawings by official war artist Graham Sutherland, which depict the structural damage inflicted on the City and the East End. Toeing the official line of wartime propaganda, Sutherland’s body of work focuses on the damage to buildings, rather than human loss of life.
His is a study of burnt out houses and crumbling buildings, rather like what remained of the Barbican, an area formerly known as Cripplegate after 29 December 1940 when German air forces launched one of its most destructive attacks, an event we now know as the Second Great Fire of London.
Equally powerful are photographs illustrating the impact on Londoners’ daily lives by Bill Brandt and Bert Hardy. Brandt, who documented life in air raid shelters as part of a push to get the Americans involved in the war, captures sardine-like conditions at Liverpool Street Underground station, while Hardy has described a night spent photographing firefighters battling a blaze at Blackfriars Bridge as “one of the most frightening nights of [his] life”.
But Perspectives of Destruction is not all doom and gloom, despite the subject matter. City of London Police Constable Arthur Cross and Fred Tibbs were tasked with recording bomb damage to help the rebuilding of the City, and captured a V-1 bomb narrowly missing St Paul’s Cathedral, establishing the iconic building as a symbol of hope.
Francis Marshall, senior curator of paintings, prints and drawings at the Museum of London said the exhibition will “bring home the large-scale devastation that London suffered”.
“After the Great Fire of London, the Blitz is arguably the second most destructive event to have happened to our Capital,” she said. “Nowadays we’re more accustomed to seeing destruction on this scale in other locations that it’s easy to forget it was on our own doorsteps only 75 years ago.”
Perspectives of Destruction: Images of London, 1940-44 is on at the Museum of London until 8 May