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250 × 190 mm
320 pages
156 illustrations, 130 in colour
08 Sep 2014

Beyond the Battlefield Women Artists of the Two World Wars Catherine Speck

Beyond the Battlefield provides a fascinating account of female creativity in America, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand during the turbulent era of twentieth-century conflict. This book looks at women artists’ unique artistic portrayal of war at the front lines, as well as their documentation of everyday life on the home front.

Exploring high-profile artists such as the American photographer Lee Miller and her work with British Vogue, this book also recounts the experiences of the First World War nurses, voluntary aides and ambulance drivers who found time to create astonishing art while working in the middle of war zones. While some women could bravely work on the front line, other female artists felt disempowered by their distance from actual warfare. Spurred by the constant fear of attack, the sorrow of innocent lives destroyed, the mass murders of people in concentration camps and the unimaginable aftermath of the A-bomb attacks on Japan, female artists created highly charged, emotional responses to the threats, sufferings and horrors of war.

The two world wars of the twentieth century changed the world utterly, on a scale never seen before or since. In this book, Catherine Speck provides an insightful and meditative examination of visual responses to this historical period from the perspective of women in the Allied countries. Generously illustrated, Beyond the Battlefield delivers a distinctly female perspective on the art produced during the period that will appeal to readers interested in the history of art, war history and cultural studies.

‘A visual interpretation of how women saw and experienced the two world wars is the subject of a beautiful new book . . . Drawing on the work of wartime women artists from America, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, Speck’s narrative sheds light on how women navigated the “no man’s land” in which many were stuck during times of war: somewhere between the home front (mothers, wives and working women) and “behind”’ the frontline (nurses, mechanics, drivers and other women in service) . . . Fascinating as it is to see women painting men at war – not to mention women portrayed in service as truck drivers and the like, what really sparkles is the things their male counterparts perhaps overlooked.’
Australian Financial Review

‘In 2012, “Women War Artists” at London’s Imperial War Museum focused public attention on long-overlooked images created by women during the conflicts of the last century. Catherine Speck’s book is similarly welcome, exploring not only the art of the home front and work by familiar frames such as Lee Miller, but also powerful art made by women working near the front lines – as nurses or ambulance drivers, for instance.’ – Apollo Magazine

Speck has organised her material with clarity and logic. This is no mean feat, considering that she discusses no fewer than seventy artists within her 228 pages. I particularly liked the fact that each artist is given up to three illustrations, so that one gains a fair impression of their work . . . an attractive, readable and useful publication.’ – Burlington Magazine

‘In addition to chronicling high-profile artists like American photographer Lee Miller, who served as a war correspondent for Vogue during the Second World War, Speck recounts the experiences of nurses, voluntary aides and women on the home front as reported in their own words and pictures.’ – Art in America

‘One achievement of this book is that it presents a broader picture of the Allied war effort, as seen through the eyes of its artists . . . This shifting nature of gender roles, changing technologies of art production and the changing nature of the purposes of this art are some of the other key issues addressed in this important book . . . In recent writing there has been an obsession with militaristic histories which glorify war efforts. In this pioneering study, Professor Catherine Speck moves the focus to the home front and the role of women, as recorded through the art of women.’ – The Age, Australia

‘Despite women’s central role in paramilitary organisations during the First and Second World Wars, only the masculine eye was thought able to represent truly the experience of war. Catherine Speck reveals that few women were included in official war artists’ schemes or gained access to the front line for ‘close encounters’. Despite these barriers, they created their own visions of the interior and exterior worlds shaped by total war, mobilisation and death . . . Uncovering rare works and revisiting those of celebrated artists, Catherine Speck locates the unique vision of women artists in wartime Britain, Canada, Australia and the United States. An illuminating and important book.’
– Dr Ana Carden-Coyne, Co-Director, Centre for the Cultural History of War, University of Manchester

‘In this timely, original and richly informative book, Catherine Speck brings together for the first time a wealth of work prompted by the two big 20th-century wars . . . In so doing, she fills out the repertoire of world war imagery and gives unprecedented credit to 62 artists who contributed to the visual record of these important events . . . this valuable book takes the interested viewer much further into this long neglected territory. It will remain a significant addition to this growing field of scholarship as well as a publication of intense general interest.’
– Dr Pamela Gerrish Nunn, freelance art historian specializing in the histories of women artists

‘Catherine Speck’s new book is a gem. Beautifully illustrated, well-researched, and readable, it sheds light on the role of women near the front lines and on the home front during both World Wars. The reader will find much that is new in this valuable contribution to art and social history. Especially interesting is the author’s discovery of many talented but little known artists.’
– Bruce Cole, former Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities and Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Washington, DC

‘Speck greatly expands the canon of war art, presenting newly-discovered artists alongside famous names, and reproducing many images for the first time. She challenges the perceived dichotomy between a man’s war, fought on the front line, and the experience of women serving and observing from behind the lines, showing how women’s art can bring home the totality of modern war.’
– Dr Grace Brockington, author of Above the Battlefield: Modernism and the Peace Movement in Britain, 1900–1918

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Catherine Speck is Professor of Art History at the University of Adelaide. She has published widely on women, war and art; modernism, cosmopolitanism and expatriatism; and the relationship between exhibitions and art histories.