Information required on life of a war artist

A MUSEUM is appealing for help from Sheffield residents who just might know about the secret past of an official war artist.

Witness: Women War Artists at the Imperial War Museum North is the first UK exhibition in over 50 years to focus on women war artists and features works from the First World War to the Kosovo conflict.

But one painting in particular has set curators from the Manchester museum on a mission to find out more about the Steel City artist.

It is by Elsie Dalton Hewland, who lived from 1901 to 1979. Staff at the museum know little about her early life in Sheffield other than the fact she initially studied at Sheffield College of Art.

Now they are hoping Sheffielders will be able to help them fill in the gaps.

In 1924 Elsie won a scholarship to the Royal Academy Schools and, when the Second World War began, she wrote to her old tutor at the Royal Academy asking him to recommend her as an official war artist.

In total the War Artists Advisory Committee bought five paintings from Elsie but the first picture she offered them was rejected.

The committee asked to see smaller, similar themed paintings and 'A Nursery-School for War Workers' Children' was purchased in 1942. The painting shows a nursery school cloakroom and hints at changes both for children and their mothers who were conscripted into full-time work.

Elsie's main employment after the war was as a medical illustrator. On her retirement she moved to the Isle of Wight and lived a reclusive life until her death in 1979.

Kathleen Palmer, the museum's head of art, said Elsie's work is of great importance because she was an official war artist and the picture forms one of the highlights in the Imperial War Museum's collections.

"It would be great to hear from anyone that knows anything further about Elsie's life in Sheffield for our archives," she said.

"Although we know a little more about her later life we would love to find out if she was born in Sheffield and to learn more about her experiences there."

Email the museum at art@iwm.org.uk or call 0207 416 5228.

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