Last week Gill Clarke, our Guest Curator, gave an introduction to our next exhibition A Nest of Gentle Artists: Randolph Schwabe and his Hampstead Contemporaries, which we hope to be able to open in the near future. This week we’re sharing extracts from Schwabe’s diary to commemorate VE day.
In January Schwabe is asked by the War Artists' Advisory Committee to record the V2 bomb damage at Chelsea Pensioners' Hospital in London. Shortly after he returns to Manchester to make his second drawing of the industrial efforts of the city. April 23 sees a lifting of the black-out; on 28 Mussolini is shot and killed and two days later Hitler commits suicide. Victory in Europe is celebrated on May 8. A few days later Schwabe is much moved by the death of his brother, Eric. In August the Americans drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagaski. July sees the end of the Slade in Oxford and in early September to great regret the Schwabe's return to London. Having nowhere to live they stay with good friends Charles and Ivy Tennyson. The Slade reopens in Gower Street in October amid conditions of austerity. Two important exhibitions open in December – Matisse and Picasso at the V&A and Paul Klee at the Tate.
Oxford 4-9 May, 1945
Friday 4 May 1945
...the War news is wonderfully satisfactory, as far as the approaching end of hostilities with Germany is concerned. The deaths of Mussolini and Hitler within a few days of each other make this time memorable.
Saturday 5 May 1945
...A young New Zealander corporal, a prisoner of war just returned from the horrors of a march across Germany, and from the beatings of a prison camp ('you can't down a British- er', he said) applied for admission to the Slade. He was a commercial artist. ... He had a curious pallor, the result...of his privations.
Monday 7 May 1945
Anticipation of VE day. Everything is going to close – the [Ashmolean] Museum, the School [Ruskin & Slade], the Restaurants – all workers will have a day or two off...About 8.15p.m. Victory Days were announced for tomorrow and Wednesday. I was then with [George] Charlton, [Peter] Greenham, Hector Whistler, June Miles, [Bernard] Dunstan and Bryan Wynter, engaged in drawing Miss Butler the model. The announcement was reported to us by someone in the house. Flags appeared in the streets. I heard little 'joy and uproar'.
Tuesday 8 May 1945
...I waited 3⁄4 of an hour in a bread queue ... The bakers did not shut ... Joined Albert R. [Rutherston, Head of the Ruskin School of Art], Jack Townend, Griselda Allan and Barbara Lloyd-Jones in the Randolph [Hotel]. Albert had shared in a bottle of champagne ... the hotel was full, but there was no disorder either there or in the streets. Winston Churchill and a short service of thanksgiving on the wireless in the afternoon ... there was rather more noise in the streets at night, and I am told of bonfires ... flood-lighting, and dancing in the streets, but nothing resembling a riot.
Wednesday 9 May 1945
Victory Day no. 2. spent it quietly. In the Randolph, Albert, Barbara Ll-J. [Lloyd-Jones], young [Lawrence] Toynbee and Athene Seyler. 10.15p.m. Birdie [Schwabe's wife] and I went out to look at the crowds. St. John's [College] was flood-lit. There were dense, well-behaved crowds at Carfax [in the centre of Oxford], some groups carrying an effigy; others, one of their own number. A bonfire on top of the air-raid shelter in the Broad. By the Martyrs' Memorial, the base of which was piled with tiers of people, some St. John's men were burning the A.R.P. [Air Raid Precaution] ladders from the college, together with the props which had supported the arcade in Canterbury Quad against possible blast all through the War. A good blaze: the faces of the people lighted up by it, the sky black, the cold flood-lighting on St. John's contrasting with the warm firelight. trees silhouetted like stage scenery, lights – unaccustomed – in the windows of Balliol [College] – a fine scene. not much singing – everything good-tempered and well under control. I imagine there was no drink left in Oxford, which may partially account for the sobriety. I am told that Lincoln [College], Magdalen [College] and other places were flood-lit.
Gill Clarke (Ed) (2016) The Diaries of Randolph Schwabe: British Art 1930-48: Artist Circles 1930-48, Bristol: Sansom & Co.