Completed British 20th C, except portraits, London: Artists and Subjects, Military History 37 Who painted this burning building during a Zeppelin raid?

Topic: Artist

The painting is signed with a monogram bottom right.

Martin Hopkinson, Entry reviewed by Art UK

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Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. The artist record stands as 'unknown', although Laurence Irving was put forward as a strong contender.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the discussion. To anyone viewing this discussion for the first time, please see below for all the comments that led to this conclusion.


Louis Musgrove,

Is that a number in the monogram? Looks like 49. Is that for 1949 ? or 49 in a series? If 1949 that's a bit odd, unless for something like an illustrated magazine.
This reminds me of the work of Blanche Vulliamy, who did a series of pastels of London at night during WW1 ( I have actually seen them all)
but they are all quite small, and slightly different in style.

Jacinto Regalado,

It's a 44, and the piece is currently dated as 1944.

I think it is 44, and the date of production is recorded as 1944 under 'More Info', on Art UK and on the collection website.

The picture is recorded as a gift from Guys Hospital Medical and Dental Schools, 1981. Presumably the artist's identity had been lost by the time of transfer to the IWM. It is perhaps the work of a patient or staff member at Guys -- possibly an amateur painter.

Michael Hurman,

My thoughts are that the painting looks like a night time air raid scene with the anti aircraft search lights illuminating a barrage balloon which were deployed against the V1 attacks in 1944. I don't think that the building is burning but is used as a previously bombed out building with the roof gone to increase the sense of damage and destruction and then through the window in the mid distance a fire burning with people around it? fire fighters? A regular wartime night scene in 1944.

The Monogram is it a T on its side used to cross the H ? so an artist with initials of T H ? Just my thoughts. Thanks.

Jacinto Regalado,

It might be based on a news photograph from the time.

Patrick Bond,

Helen Lavinia Cochrane painted subjects such as this, but have never seen the monogram before. At a stretch it could be H L C?

Osmund Bullock,

I can't quite see why all the searchlights would be trying to illuminate a barrage balloon; and isn't the shape too elongated for one? And though searchlights may have been used as part of the anti-V1 defensive screen between the coast and London, trying to light up a doodlebug over the city would be pointless - by the time you caught one in the beam (if you could) it would already be falling or about to.

Despite the surprising date on the painting, I think a WWI Zeppelin raid is more likely.

If it's a Zeppelin being highlighted back right, then it is First World War - not 1944 or 1949 except as a rather improbable painting date for that subject. The shape is more Zeppelin than barrage balloon, also ditto for height (though not conclusively so) and since 'blimps' tended to be in 'barrages' not on their own.

Its a subject John Fraser painted at least once in two versions, though I don't suggest this is by him.

Martin Hopkinson,

Could it be a copy of a WW1 painting, or an imaginative reinterpetation? Was there an aerial attack in the vicinity of the Hospital? Could we be looking south?

Maybe this might be useful, from LMA archive

Administration: notes on hospital furniture and paintings
H09/GY/A/261/001 Documents relating to items of furniture, paintings etc. belonging to the hospital. Marked
'Historical Notes on Guy's Hospital 3 items

Jacinto Regalado,

David, the link in your preceding comment does not work.

Martin Hopkinson,

Do you know of any prints by Irving, Grant? He was one of the first artists to make screenprints in Britain. He may well have learnt the technique when working in Hollywood c. 1929

Martin Hopkinson,

do you have a date for the sale and the name of auctioneer?

Interesting Irving image (and I have a slight memory of him in old age as a lecturer). The Johnstone studio shown in the V&A painting was (and is) in Charles Street, Covent Garden. It was built as a scene-painting shop by Grieve family of scene-painters (Thomas,1799-1882, and used by his son Thomas Walford, 1841-99, until he sold out) and - I think - may still be in use for set-building mainly for TV commercials etc, though there was a (successful) planning appeal for adaptations many years ago which saw the remains of original fittings taken out.

Thanks Martin. I have checked on the ArtPrice database but I cannot locate the name of the saleroom(s) involved. The artist's son died in 2016. A very brief biography is below, prepared by the art dealers Sulis Fine Art of Corsham, Wilts, who had a quantity of work by both the father and the son. They may be able to help further.

John H.B. Irving (1924-2016) was the son of the painter, illustrator and set designer Laurence Henry Forster Irving (1897-1988). A member of the prominent thespian Irving family, John continued the family tradition of working in the performing arts, becoming a television producer and film maker, as well as an artist in his own right. He also wrote a book detailing the work of his father.

Martin Hopkinson,

Thank you so much . I have almost completed quite a long article on British screenprints before 1941, which awaits a visit to a London library when it becomes posible to visit. Irving may well be the key figure in introducing artist's screenprints to Britain

Louis Musgrove,

Just thinking out of the box.Laurence went to work for United Artists in Hollywood 1929. There is a United Arists film of 1930 called" Hells Angels" -very succesful film box office wise- which involves a Zeppelin bombing Trafalgar Square. I wonder if this is a storey board picture from that film. I know this picture is thought to date from 1944- but Laurence was busy in the R.A.F at that time- there was a war on you know! :-)
Secondly- I look at Laurence's monogram, and I cannot figure out what letters are in it and how they are arranged- any body able to work it out. Cheers.Louis.

Tim Williams,

Mendip Auction rooms, the first tranch was 24th November 2018, but looks like many lots went unsold and were represented again in January last year. This firework scene is the closest of them to the picture under discussion.

Amongst the prints Martin, were a handful of woodcuts and a set four lithographs of Canterbury Pilgrims - this set may well have screen-printed elements. Otherwise there were no lots mentioning screen-prints.

Sulis purchased their stock from the Mendip sales.

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Martin Hopkinson,

That is so helpful - thank you so much again. The tiny village of Binegar is hardly the place where you would expect an art auction

Martin Hopkinson,

There may be relevant material in the Theatre Collection, University of Bristol's Irving Family Archive BTC 30 and BTC 34

Following Grant’s excellent proposal of Laurence Irving as author of this work, and other interesting contributions, this discussion seems to have ground to a halt.

Apart from the obvious kinship of the monograms, the comments on set design seem apposite, even if at present, the work cannot be directly ascribed to a film or theatre production.

Clearly, as Martin suggests, there may be evidence to come from theatre archives. My first thought was that this was the sort of picture one might see in a late 40s or 50s issue of The Studio, but if or until such information arrives, the detectives have probably taken this as far as it can go.

S. Elin Jones,

I’d like to ask please, was it established as. to whether this painting was definately marked as ‘44? and which war was it thought to be more likely to be depicting?

As a matter of interest, the Imperial War Museum holds a portrait in pastel by William Dring, RA, of Squadron Leader Laurence Irving:

Laurence Irving also served with distinction in the Royal Naval Air Service during World War I. For the non specialist like me, it is hard to know whether the present painting of the burning building depicts a World War I Zeppelin or if it shows a barrage balloon, commonly referred to as a blimp, in World War II. Given his experiences in both World Wars, Laurence Irving certainly had an interest in painting this sort of subject.

Jacinto Regalado,

The date is either 44 or 49, most probably the former.

S. Elin Jones,

Thanks very much. I asked, as I was also wondering about the significance of his experience in the Royal Naval Air Service. He had been in training at Hendon, and gained his aviators’ certificate on the 11th of March, 1915. By this point in time, Zeppelins had already been used in the bombing of Great Yarmouth and Hull. It was a concern that he would have been very familiar with.
i) Royal Naval Air Support

There’s also a brief biography and filmography of Laurence Irving on IMDB, this of course does not cover plays he was involved with.
ii) Laurence Irving

The Collection have commented: 'I have made a note in the record about this public discussion. I will not ascribe a possible attribution as this feels too tentative, but I’m grateful for the new finds, which helps us a step further. '