Battlefields of Britain

The funding and provision of art for government buildings and embassies paused during the Second World War. A small number of works were lost, damaged or destroyed as a result of the hostilities. One exception was Battlefields of Britain by Christopher R. W. Nevinson.

a view of clouds from an aeroplane

Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson, Battlefields of Britain, 1942 © image: Crown Copyright

‘... public possession of the British Nation’

A dream-like cloudscape showing distant glimpses of green countryside, this painting imagines the view from the cockpit window as seen by John Gillepsie Magee, a young American pilot. Killed on active service in Britain on 11 December 1941, he was also a talented poet. After his death, his sonnet ‘High Flight’ featured in the British press and inspired Nevinson who described how he ‘.. tried to put his thoughts into my picture’.

In 1942, Nevinson donated the work to Winston Churchill who responded, ‘I accept your gift with much pleasure but I think that such a picture should not be retained as my private property but should rather become a public possession of the British Nation.’

For nearly 80 years, Battlefields of Britain has appealed to hundreds of staff and visitors at 10 Downing Street, the Ministry of Defence and the Residence of the UK’s Permanent Representative to the UN in New York. It has also delighted visitors to temporary exhibitions in London, Birmingham, Compton Verney and Belfast.