Sunday, February 10, 2019

Anna Airy's Industrial Art

Anna Airy (1882-1962) painted plenty of genteel portraits and delicate flowers, but she also portrayed gritty industrial scenes, and that's what I want to feature in this post.

Anna Airy, Shop for Machining 15 inch Shells
She was born in Greenwich, London in 1882. Unfortunately her mother died soon after she was born. Her father, an engineer, supported her interest in art.

At age 17 she enrolled in the Slade School of Fine Art. Slade offered art classes to men and women working in the same classroom, unusual at the time. Teachers such as Henry Tonks and Philip Wilson Steer encouraged a form of Impressionism founded on good drawing and accurate perspective.

Anna Airy, An Aircraft Assembly Shop, Hendon
In 1914 she was one of only four women artists commissioned by the British Government to work as a war artist. She focused on portraying the activity inside the munitions factories, where female workers were crucial to the war effort.

She often labored under dangerous conditions. In painting a shell forge, she faced the extreme heat of red-hot shells. "No matter where I stood," she said, "I'd have some rolled to within a few feet of me. I never felt such heat." The ground became so hot that her shoes were burnt off her feet.

Anna Airy, A Shell Forge at a National Projectile Factory,
Hackney Marshes, London, 
The men of the factory floor rigged a shield of corrugated metal to protect her from the heat, "but the red hot shells would be rolled right against my screen —which acted like an oven, with me inside! Often, too, the shelter would fall over and send me and my easel flying."

Anna Airy 
She wrote two books: The Art of Pastel in 1930 and Making a Start in Art in 1951, and she exhibited in the Royal Academy Exhibitions and the Paris Salon for many years.
Anna Airy  on Wikipedia
Online article: The First World War Art of Anna Airy, Imperial War Museum
Online article: War art: Shop for machining 15-inch shells
Thanks, Blair Updike for your article in the Portrait Society Journal

Related post: Heinrich Kley's Demons of Krupp


Susan Krzywicki said...

These are just lovely. Thank you for sharing this info about an artist doing what she did at a time when many must have discouraged her. From her photo, it looks as if she must have had a strong will and maybe a sense of humor?

CerverGirl said...

I love the rendering of the red hot metals in fiery orange. What stamina and fortitude for such beautiful works. From an era I feel so distant from, sitting in front of a computer while back then such physical labor. I gather folks then didn't think about the labor, it was just what was necessary and called for at the time. My grandfather worked at a steel stamping forge, working in 15 minute shifts wearing burlap soaked in water so the hot fragments wouldn't burn them. Ms. Airy's descriptive accounts make you feel like you are there!

DJ said...

Amazing, just wonderful stuff!

Rich said...

Amazing intricate stuff!
Reminds me somewhat of Adolf Menzel's pioneering "Eisenwalzwerk" industrial painting.

Dunno if I'd want to have those 15inch hot glowing 1st world-war-shells hanging on my wall.
But the way they are rendered....perhaps.

Jared Shear said...

I've always loved these ammunition factory paintings by Anna. She was able to capture these scenes, which are technically complex, with a looseness and confidence of a masters touch. Her paintings are full of life and energy just like those shell casings.

It was so great getting to hear the back story of what she went through to paint these.

I've often thought she was one of the finest war artists of that period, and one of the most overlooked.

Great post James!