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"DAZZLE" SHIPS

The two photos (immediately below) were taken by Steven Booth on the North Bank of the River Thames in London, England, in August 2014. Artist, Tobias Rehberger, has created a contemporary dazzle design for HMS President (1918) as part of 14-18 NOW, WW1 Centenary Art Commissions. This temporary artwork takes as its starting point a style of optical distortion used extensively in the First World War, called Dazzle painting.

Devised by British Artist Norman Wilkinson, and supervised by vorticist artist Edward Wadsworth, the camouflage technique incorporated bold shapes and strong contrasts, with an aim to confuse rather than conceal. HMS President (1918) is one of three surviving WW1 warships. It was "dazzled" on its launch in 1918 under its original name HMS Saxifrage.



Norman Wilkinsonís dazzle designs have been compared to what in 1917 was considered a revolutionary movement in modern art, called cubism.

Norman Wilkinson

While there is an overlap in appearance between dazzle and cubist art, Wilkinson himself was anything but a modernist. He was a celebrated marine painter and talented poster artist.

He was commissioned to create paintings for the elegant smoking rooms on board the Titanic and the Olympic. Wilkinson was passionate about ships and the sea. It inspired him to travel from Europe, to the US, Bahamas and Brazil. He also produced beautiful landscape art. His work was used by The London & North Western Railway and London Midland & Scottish Railway to advertise their routes.

Wilkinsonís art now takes pride of place in collections including the National Maritime Museum, Royal Academy of Arts and the Royal Society of British Artists.

Born in 1878, he studied at Portsmouth and Southsea School of Art, and found early work selling his drawings to newspapers. He built a career at the Illustrated London News before signing-up for the Navy after the outbreak of war in 1915.

On submarine patrol he faced the dangers of Gallipoli campaign, then returned to Britain in 1917 to serve on a minesweeping ship. It was here that his idea for dazzle was born.

In 1917 people were astounded by harbours full of colourful ships. Examples of their striking colours can  be seen on hundreds of model ships (collection of the Imperial War Museum, London)

IWM_models_AA


These were made by the Dazzle Section at the Royal Academy of Arts, at Burlington House in London. Scale models were painted and used to test dazzle designs. They were placed on a rotating turntable and viewed through a periscope. This allowed Wilkinsonís team to see how dazzle distorted a shipís form as if it were travelling in different directions. Wilkinson believed that using strong contrasts, with light and dark greys, blues and greens, was most effective.

Dazzle ships in dry dock, Liverpool 1919, painting by Norman Wilkinson

(National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa)

Wilkinson appointed dock officers at ports around Britain. They supervised the painting of ships from the finished designs. One dock officer was the artist Edward Wadsworth. He was a founder of Vorticism - a British art movement that grew out of Cubism.

Edward Wadsworth

The Admiralty experimented with various camouflage ideas during WW1. They had considered similar proposals by US artist Abbot H Thayer and the Scottish zoologist John Graham Kerr. However, it was Wilkinsonís scheme that won them over. After the war the Royal Commission on Awards to Inventors awarded him £2000 and recognised him as the creator of dazzle.

EXAMPLES OF WW1 DAZZLE SHIPS (20 IMAGES)

SS OSTERLEY (above)

HMS PEGASUS (above)

HMS ARGUS (above)

HMS KILLBRIDE (above)

HMS FURIOUS (above)


HMS POLYANTHUS (above)

HMS ROCKSAND (above)

HMS UNDERWING (above)

RSS OLYMPIC (above)

SS ALLOWAY (above)

SS EMPRESS OF RUSSIA (above)

SS MAURETANIA (above)

SS  WEST APAUM (above)

SS WEST MAHOMET (above)

USS K-5 SUBMARINE (above)

USS LEVIATHAN (above)

USS NEBRASKA (above)

USS ORIZABA (above)

USS SHAWMUT (above)

USS WILHELMINA (above)


 

                 

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