Panayiotis Kalorkoti

Imperial War Museum Commission 1, 1988
56.5x76.2cm (sheet), 41x58.2cm (imp.), Edition of 10
about this collection Click image to enlarge



One of the most extensive national collections of twentieth century British art is housed in the Imperial War Museum, London. Its Department of Art has charge of several thousand paintings, drawings and watercolours, sculpture and medallions, prints, posters and ephemera, from the First World War to the present day. The collection includes work by Sir Muirhead Bone, the first official British war artist, who documented the Western Front in 1916, and many now more prominent artists such as Paul Nash, Wyndham Lewis, Stanley Spencer, John Piper, Graham Sutherland and Jacob Epstein. Since its inception however, the Museum has actively acquired work by artists who were not 'official' or who only subsequently received commissions, from Henri Gaudier Brzeska to John Minton and C R W Nevinson to Henry Moore.


The Artistic Records Committee set up by the Trustees of the Imperial War Museum in 1972 continues the tradition of commissioning artists to produce works of art to record the activities of the British Armed Forces in war and peace time. In 1988 Panayiotis Kalorkoti was commissioned to produce two images encompassing the immense wealth of historical material contained in the collections of the Museum. These works are multi-plate colour etchings in a limited edition of 10 each.


In Commission No. 1 Kalorkoti places a number of prominent war artists in the context of the subjects which they themselves have depicted. These include machines of war and the main protagonists in twentieth century European conflicts. The imagery was drawn from the collections in the Museum's main building in Lambeth Road and its three outstations.


'The deep peace of our country night has been broken by the d of guns'. This sentence from a letter by Paul Nash is depicted in Commission No. 2 which exemplifies the literary and graphic description of the experience of conflict contained in archives and displays at the Museum. The work also depicts the past, present and future role of the Museum as a centre for historical research and as a memorial to the futility of war.


The works are the result of considerable research: Kalorkoti visited HMS Belfast which became an outstation of the Museum in 1978 and was the first warship to be preserved for the nation since HMS Victory. He also visited the Cabinet War Rooms, situated deep beneath the ground in central London where Winston Churchill and his War Cabinet directed the war effort. These rooms were opened to the public in April 1984 when they became the responsibility of the Museum. The enormous hangars of Duxford Airfield in Cambridgeshire contain the Museum's collection of historical aircraft. This is one of the finest in the country and also includes a variety of other large exhibits from tanks to submarines. The main Museum building in Lambeth Road, Southwark, was previously the central portion of the former Bethlem Royal Hospital or 'Bedlam'. The Museum has occupied the site since 1936; it houses the reference collections and the main public galleries.


These visits, together with many hours spent in the archives, have resulted in the two commissioned works which bring together disparate elements which Kalorkoti selected from a wide variety of sources. Documentary and graphic images are mediated through the print technique and situated emblematically on the plate. The images are unified by Kalorkoti's subtle colour sense, in this case a perhaps symbolic blush pink. By using collated historical data, Kalorkoti has created imagery which fuses the past with the present, is rich in historical references, multi-layered in meaning and challenging in its ambiguity.


The Department of Art of the Imperial War Museum first purchased two works (Berlin and Berlin, East and West) from Kalorkoti at his Royal College of Art Degree Show in 1985. An additional three works were acquired in 1987 after the artist completed his Netherlands Government Scholarship (Untitled/Composition, Soldier, Chips with Everything). The commissioning of these two works by Panayiotis Kalorkoti demonstrates the continuing commitment of the Museum to enhancing the quality of their collection of work by living artists




Angela Weight

Keeper of Department of Art

Imperial War Museum