(Enlarged Photo)

Fishing Boats, Reykjavik, Iceland, 1943 -
Thomas Hennell, (1903-1946)

Thomas Hennell was flown out to Iceland in May 1943 as an official war artist, to replace Eric Ravilious, who had been reported missing in a flying accident there nine months earlier. The War Artists Advisory Committee asked Hennell to “record aspects of the War in Iceland” – then an important strategic possession for the Allies in the vital battle for the control of shipping and armaments in the North Atlantic.

Hennell produced some of his best work in Iceland, responding with typical sensitivity to the landscape and the work of the Icelandic fisherman, as well as to the practical demands of his work in recording military activity.

Most of Hennell's work from that period resides in public collections, notably the Imperial War Museum, the British Council and the Government Art Collection but the watercolour we have for sale is a rare example of a private commission undertaken by the artist during his stay in Iceland. An official from the British Legation in Reykjavik (from where Hennell sent and received letters from home) saw Hennell at work and asked if he could produce a watercolour of the view of Mount Esja from the house, known as ‘Holdi'. This Hennell did, including the activities of local fisherman preparing their small trawler, but carefully excluding any detail of military activity.

The brilliant quality of the Icelandic light lends an ethereal quality to the scene, as do the slightly anthropomorphic shapes of the distant Icelandic mountains, which Hennell described as “like an animal's skin” in the mid-day light.

Provenance: British Legation and by descent.


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