Fred A. Farrell – Glasgow’s War Artist
From Home Front to Front Line in WWI
As the city prepares to commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of World War I, Glasgow Museums presents an exciting and thought-provoking exhibition focusing on the war drawings of Glasgow artist Frederick Arthur Farrell (1882–1935).
This exhibition will be on display on the top floor of the People’s Palace from Friday 30 May until Sunday 23 November 2014.
Glasgow Museums’ curators research into archival material has brought to light details of the extraordinary commission Farrell received from the Corporation of Glasgow to produce 50 drawings of the front line and munitions factories in Glasgow to record the war for posterity. Farrell was unique in being the only war artist to be commissioned by a city rather than by the government, Imperial War Museum or armed forces. Glasgow was one of the first cities to recognize the importance of creating such a memorial, rather than just creating images for propaganda purposes, and Farrell was ambitious and tenacious in chasing the commission.
Farrell came from a distinguished Glasgow family – his father was the curator of the Trades House on Glassford Street. He initially studied civil engineering, and as an artist was self-taught, although he owes a debt to the advice and example of Muirhead Bone. By WWI he was developing a reputation as an up-and-coming etcher and watercolourist of portraits and topographical subjects. British Army records show that during the war he enlisted as a sapper, or military engineer, but was discharged due to ill health. The role of a war artist provided a route for him to reach the Front. Farrell made two trips as a war artist. In November 1917 he went to Flanders (northern Belgium) where he spent three weeks with the 15th, 16th and 17th battalions of the Highland Light Infantry. These were volunteer battalions raised by the Corporation of Glasgow and the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce. In late 1918 he spent two months attached to the 51st (Highland) Division in France. The division was mainly comprised of territorial battalions from Scottish regiments included the Royal Scots, Cameronians (Scottish Rifles), Black Watch, Seaforth Highlanders, Cameron Highlanders ,Gordon Highlanders and Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders. Many of the soldiers in the division came from Glasgow. In between, authorized by the Minister of Munitions and Admiralty, and supported by Glasgow’s Lord Provost, Farrell drew the heroic home effort of women in Glasgow’s munitions factories and engineering works.
As a former soldier, Farrell’s sketches and watercolours of the Front powerfully offer a landscape filtered and mediated through personal experience and emotion. Battle scenes and strategic deliberations are reconstructed, informed by first-hand accounts. Many include portraits of actual soldiers. There are poignant images of graves, devastated landscapes and destroyed churches. However, there are also scenes of reconstruction and renewed activity amid the desolation. As an artist, he is at his most dynamic in his drawings of the munitions factories which are full of noise, light and movement. In these there is a sense of joy and energy in industry and machinery, in patterning and design.
In 1920 Farrell’s war drawings were exhibited in the Banqueting Hall of the City Chambers and a limited edition publication, The 51st Division: War Sketches by Fred Farrell, was brought out with an introduction by the well-known journalist and writer Dr Neil Munro.
Exhibition catalogue - Now available
As in 1920, Glasgow Museums’ exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue of Farrell’s war drawings with essays providing historical context and highlighting the importance of this rare and singular collection. This publcation has been produced with Philip Wilson Publishers, and has been made possible by a grant from the Friends of Glasgow Museums.
It is priced at £14.99 and is available to purchase at the People's Palace along with other Glasgow Museums shops, or is available online from www.ibtauris.com