fig. 1
Louis Duffy

The heavy rescue squads of the ARP (Air Raid Precautions) were a common sight in London and other major cities of Great Britain during the Blitz of 1940–41 following each of the terrible bombing raids unleashed by Nazi Germany. Teams of volunteer civilian tradesmen and labourers wearing overalls and steel helmets marked with a distinctive ‘W’ for warden or ‘R’ for rescue, worked night and day, rendering bombed sites as structurally safe as possible before sifting through their shattered remains for survivors.

This was the subject of Casualty no. 1 (fig. 2), a powerful painting by Louis Duffy that was included in the National Gallery of Victoria’s recent survey exhibition Modern Britain 1900–1960: Masterworks from Australian and New Zealand Collections.1 See Ted Gott, Laurie Benson & Sophie Matthiesson, Modern Britain 1900–1960: Masterworks from Australian and New Zealand Collections, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2007, p. 238 (reprod.). Shortly after Casualty no. 1 was first sighted by NGV staff in New Zealand in early September 2006 during preparations for the Modern Britain exhibition, another work by this artist appeared for auction in London.2 20th Century British and Irish Art, Sotheby’s Olympia, London, 7 Sept. 2006, lot 71. This painting, descriptively titled Christ turning out the money lenders, was signed ‘Duffy’ but undated (fig. 1). Sotheby’s evidently knew little about the artist, listing Duffy simply as ‘20th century’. The composition of this second painting, a contemporary recasting of a New Testament narrative, was also arresting, indeed haunting. With funds provided by generous and enthusiastic donors, the gallery was successful in acquiring at auction this work by Louis Duffy, which seemed an ideal and highly desirable addition to the NGV’s permanent collections. This article presents the preliminary results of an ongoing investigation into both the context in which this painting might have been created and the life and career of this undeservedly neglected mid-twentieth-century British artist.

In October 2006 Duffy’s Christ turning out the money lenders was shipped to Melbourne and analysis of the full meaning and significance of the gallery’s new acquisition was begun. Discussion of the clothing worn by the male subjects in the painting led to a date of c.1940 being proposed for this work.3 In the National Gallery of Victoria’s cataloguing conventions, the use of circa implies a two-year window either side of the central date, thus giving a potential window of 1938–42 for the creation of Duffy’s painting. The title provided by Sotheby’s, Christ turning out the money lenders, was also replaced by a new descriptive title, Christ driving out the money changers, which accords better with the Biblical narrative.4 ‘Money lenders’ is a misnomer. In Christ’s day the financial dealers who gathered at the Temple in Jerusalem did not lend money, but changed foreign coinage into the local currency that alone could be used to pay for religious ceremonies.

The New Testament account of Christ and the money changers has been depicted regularly in Western art since medieval times, notable proto-Renaissance interpretations of this subject being undertaken in fresco painting and sculpture by Giotto and Lorenzo Ghiberti. The story of Christ expelling the money changers is told in all four Gospels. The most detailed account is provided by John 2:12–25 (KJV), where we learn that, upon finding in Jerusalem’s Temple

those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money … [Christ] made a scourge of small cords … [and] drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables; And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise.

An impressive and large painting, measuring more than one metre by one and a half metres, Louis Duffy’s Christ driving out the money changers shows sixteen men dressed in business suits and gathered in tense confrontation. In this modern-day retelling of the Biblical story, the Temple setting has been transmuted into a graveyard, and the money changers have morphed into mid-twentieth-century arms dealers trading munitions on the graves of the dead: the ultimate profit-and-loss indicators of their grim transactions. Prominent within this complex painting is the Christ character, a handsomely burly protagonist stripped to his undershirt and wielding a truncheon. To his right an older man wearing a dark coat stands protectively astride a prone figure who seems to have been knocked unconscious. This older man’s fingers are tensed with aggression and sport remarkable talons, like those seen on demons in trecento Italian panel paintings. Behind this central pair of opposed figures, a man flees from the churchyard; while at the far right an arrest seems to be taking place. A number of the other carefully individualised participants in this scene seem curiously detached from the action unfolding about them, adding to the mysterious allure of Duffy’s allegorical study of unbridled militarism.

Elements of Duffy’s narrative could be immediately compared with another British painting in the NGV collection, Stanley Spencer’s Parents resurrecting, 1933, in which deceased couples are seen emerging from the grave wearing modern dress in the present-day setting of the church graveyard in Spencer’s beloved village of Cookham, Berkshire. As an artist working in the late 1930s and early 1940s, Louis Duffy was surely aware of Spencer’s predilection for showing religious narratives coexisting with modern daily life in Cookham. Graveyards peopled with resurrected figures dressed in contemporary clothing also featured prominently in Spencer’s much-fêted The Resurrection, Cookham, 1924–26 (Tate Gallery), and in his extraordinary Resurrection of the soldiers, 1928–29, in the Sandham Memorial Chapel at Burghclere, in which a horde of fallen soldiers poignantly raise themselves up from the recent carnage of Macedonia’s battlefields in full First World War military attire.5 Keith Bell, Stanley Spencer. A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings, Phaidon, London, 1992, pp. 57–8, 421–2.

Christ and the money changers was a popular subject for British artists prior to the Second World War, providing a possible context for Duffy’s choice of this narrative. In 1921 Stanley Spencer painted a Giottesque rendering of Christ overturning the money changers’ tables (Art Gallery of Western Australia) for Sir Henry and Lady Slesser.6 See Lou Klepac, ‘Perth’s great Spencer’, The Art Gallery of Western Australia Bulletin, 1979, pp. 4–9. Stanley Spencer’s youthful engagement with religious subject matter, along with a renewed dialogue with the Italian old masters, had been reawakened by his experiences in the First World War. Both interests were encouraged around 1919–21 by his friendships with fellow artist Eric Gill and the collector Sir Henry Slesser. See Bell, pp. 55–7. William Roberts treated the subject with tubular robustness in 1925 (Ferens Art Gallery, Hull). Eric Gill was frequently drawn to this narrative, most notably in his Christ driving the money changers from the Temple (fig. 3), sculpted in relief in 1922–23 for the University of Leeds War Memorial, a work that aroused controversy for the manner in which Gill depicted most of the figures in contemporary clothing. The Times noted how, in this major commission dedicated to university members who had died in the First World War, ‘those who flee before Him [Christ] are types of the people who battened and fattened and added balance after balance to their credit at the bank during the war’.7 ‘Leeds University War Memorial. A controversial design’, The Times, Tuesday 22 May 1923, p. 15. Gill published a pamphlet at this time, A War Memorial, in which he justified his updating of the Biblical story by equating Christ’s actions with recent military history.

He argued that his sculpture depicted

the war of Justice against Cupidity – a war waged by Christ himself … there are ‘money changers’ in all civilized countries, and modern war, in spite of the patriotism of millions of conscripts and their officers, is mainly about money.8 Eric Gill, quoted in Judith Collins, Eric Gill the Sculpture: A Catalogue Raisonné [1998], Herbert Press, London, 2006, pp. 134–5.

Louis Duffy’s Christ driving out the money changers follows Gill’s lead in updating the clothing of its participants to contemporary times. The mayhem breaking out here over ammunition traded in a churchyard presents an even stronger critique of the immoral nexus of avarice, war and corruption. The stand-off between the central pair of figures (Christ and the Devil, Good and Evil), could easily be read in the context of the Second World War as a metaphor for Britain vs Hitler. The painting’s narrative of a police raid upon covert munitions dealing, reinforced by the arrest vignette and the replacement of Christ’s traditional whip with a sturdy truncheon, adds further tension to Duffy’s powerful anti-war allegory.

Although nothing is yet known of Louis Duffy’s origins and art training, he clearly shares a love of Italian old master painting with Spencer, Gill and numerous other British artists of the pre-war period. Memories of Raphael’s Entombment, 1507 (Galleria Borghese, Rome) seem to lie beneath the compositional gravitas of Casualty no. 1, for example. And in Duffy’s depiction of the confrontation between Christ and the money changers, the solid forms and frieze-like arrangement of his figures echo Masaccio’s frescoes of 1426–27 in the Brancacci Chapel in Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence. His use of demonic talons has already been referred to, recalling the demons in Lorenzo Monaco’s Martyrdom of Saint James, 1387–88 (Musée du Louvre, Paris), or in the NGV’s own The burning of a heretic by Sassetta, painted between 1423 and 1425/26. Similarly, Duffy’s A block-house somewhere in England (fig. 4) seems informed by the architectural vistas of Ambrogio Lorenzetti in the Palazzo Pubblico, Siena, painted in 1338–39.

The original frame that survives on Christ driving out the money changers hints at Duffy’s aspirations as a modernist artist, and fits with a proposed wartime dating for this picture. The verso of the canvas bears a chalk inscription, ‘STILES’. This, coupled with the plain stepped moulding, mottled paint and muted palette of the work’s frame point to its having been manufactured by Alfred Stiles & Sons Ltd of Hammersmith. Jacob Simon has documented Stiles’s popularity in the 1930s as a framemaker preferred by modernist artists such as Duncan Grant, Ivon Hitchens and Graham Sutherland. In 1940 Stiles won the contract to provide frames for the official war artists employed by the Ministry of Information, for whom he developed ‘a standard economy moulding with a mottled paint finish’.9 Jacob Simon, The Art of the Picture Frame. Artists, Patrons and the Framing of Portraits in Britain, National Portrait Gallery, London, 1996, p. 135; see also pp. 79, 88. The frame also bears a considerably aged sticker from the London firm of James Bourlet & Sons Frame Makers and Packers, inscribed ‘L. Duffy’ and ‘1403’. Another Bourlet sticker on the painting’s stretcher is stamped 22010. Since Stiles seems the most likely candidate for the manufacture of this frame, these Bourlet stickers perhaps refer to the transport of Duffy’s painting at various times. Bourlet’s archives were destroyed by fire in the mid 1980s, eliminating this line of enquiry.

A surviving label on the painting’s stretcher is inscribed in pen and ink, in period handwriting, ‘Passenger Train / Louis C. Duffy / 23 St Mary’s Road / Leamington / Warwickshire’. This identified the painter of the Melbourne picture as the same artist, listed at this address in Leamington Spa, who showed two works in the summer exhibitions of London’s Royal Academy of Arts during the war years, ‘Military objectives’ in 1942 (no. 183) and Quiet farm in 1945 (no. 295). The latter painting resurfaced at auction in 1989, one of only a handful of works by Duffy to have appeared on the market in recent decades.10 Sotheby’s London, 11 Oct. 1989, lot 117, where it was dated to the late 1930s. Could the quotation marks that form part of the title of ‘Military objectives’ indicate an allegorical treatment of the subject in this still unlocated painting, that might well apply to the NGV’s Christ driving out the money changers? Until more information about ‘Military objectives’, 1942, is uncovered, this remains merely an intriguing possibility.11 The Royal Academy holds no archival photographs of its 1942 exhibition, nor was an illustrated catalogue produced in that year. We have not yet located any reviews of the exhibition that may help identify the appearance of Duffy’s ‘Military objectives’, 1942.

Casualty no. 1 was one of two works by Louis Duffy to be illustrated in 1942 in Blitz, one of the series of morale-boosting War Pictures by British Artists booklets published by Oxford University Press in conjunction with the British War Artists’ Advisory Committee (WAAC). This small publication noted that Duffy was ‘serving in the Directorate of Camouflage, Ministry of Home Security’.12 J. B. Morton, Blitz: War Pictures by British Artists, no. 2, Oxford University Press, London, 1942, p. 59. The second Duffy painting reproduced in Blitz was Aftermath, 1941 (Laing Art Gallery, Tyne & Wear Museums), a graphic depiction of the corpses of three well-dressed men lying amid – one indeed half buried by – the rubble of bombed buildings, juxtaposed with an ironically unscathed poster calling for more war effort volunteers (fig. 5). His work illustrated perfectly the sentiments expressed in the volume’s prefatory note by the popular journalist J. B. Morton:

The people in these pictures, and millions like them, are not under any illusion. They do not attribute their misfortunes solely to the fact that ‘there is a war on’. They know that, in this new kind of war which has abolished the traditional morality of Christendom, they are held to be a military objective; that they are being deliberately attacked for a purpose.13 ibid., p. 6.

Duffy’s Casualty no. 1 and Aftermath reflected this dichotomy of powerlessness and stoic resistance experienced by Britain’s civilian population during the war.

The British Ministry of Information had established the WAAC in November 1939 with Sir Kenneth Clark, director of London’s National Gallery, as its chairman. The WAAC served a number of aims: to form a historical record of the war, to provide paid employment for artists at a dire time, and to help save artists’ lives by assigning them specialist duties separate from the general military draft. The complex history of the WAAC has recently been meticulously examined by the historian Brian Foss, who has noted how ‘Clark insisted that painters, draughtspersons and sculptors differed from photographers because they could produce visual records that combined historical documentation with the subjective “feel” of the war’.14 Brian Foss, War Paint. Art, War, State and Identity in Britain 1939–1945, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2007, p. 19. Clark himself claimed at this time two main goals for the works of art commissioned by the WAAC:

Their primary purpose may be to leave for posterity some record of the extraordinary events through which we are passing; their secondary purpose to give people in America and the Dominions, and our own people, too, a more vivid idea of our efforts.15 S Kenneth Clark, ‘War artists at the National Gallery’, The Studio, vol. 123, no. 586, Jan. 1942, p. 2.

Between 1940 and 1945 some six thousand works of art were produced for the WAAC by a wide spectrum of British artists, and the committee organised nine travelling exhibitions of war art for tour both within the United Kingdom and overseas. A key exhibition, Britain at War, was staged at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1941 and other displays travelled throughout the Commonwealth.16 See Monroe Wheeler (ed.), Britain at War, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1941. In his introduction, Wheeler noted: ‘In defending a civilization there should be as little dislocation or abandonment of the civilizing arts as possible, and as much continuance and preservation as we can possibly afford. The artist is an extreme specialist and sometimes, even with the best will in the world, cannot become a first-rate soldier. The necessity of his talent for such things as posters and camouflage is well understood. And the influence of painting as a fine art may also be enlisted in the common cause, as the British have shown us’ (p. 10). Louis Duffy’s Casualty no. 1 was among the seventy-eight works included in the Exhibition of British War Pictures that toured throughout Australia in 1943. This exhibition was accompanied by a commentary by the journalist and travel writer Henry Vollam Morton who remarked upon how

the average visitor will find himself judging a picture, not as a work of art, but as an interpretation of life in war-time. The pictures which stand out from their companions are those which tell a story and do not really require a title.17 Henry Vollam Morton, ‘War and the artist’, in Exhibition of British War Pictures, Commonwealth Government, Canberra, 1943, p. 10.

Duffy’s composition certainly fitted this bill, prompting Morton to write:

‘Casualty No. 1’ by L. Duffy, is a striking composition, with its background of broken bricks and sign-posts awry, and its group of wardens bending over a prostrate figure; and to those who know such scenes and such men it tells its own story. We recognize, still with some faint surprise, that the men in the picture are just ordinary members of the community upon whose shoulders war has imposed its onerous tasks; men who a few years ago would have been appalled could they have seen themselves the heroes of ‘Casualty No. 1’. But there it is. Many of us would have been appalled in 1939 could we have seen ourselves in 1941.18 ibid., p. 8.

The short caption assigned to Duffy’s painting recorded that ‘this work, painted by an artist employed on civil camouflage, shows with forceful realism how the German air attack strikes at the civil population’.19 ibid., p. 17.

During the Second World War the WAAC employed thirty-seven full-time salaried artists and provided short-term contracts for dozens more. Perhaps to deflect criticism of elitism, the WAAC also encouraged artists from all walks of life to send in unsolicited works for possible purchase. Brian Foss has documented 246 artists whose work was acquired for Britain in this manner, including Louis Duffy.20 Foss, pp. 202–4. After the conclusion of hostilities, the WAAC gifted the thousands of works of art it had commissioned or otherwise acquired to London’s Imperial War Museum, other galleries in the United Kingdom, and to Allied governments in the Commonwealth for dispersal to their own art museums. In this manner, in the late 1940s, three paintings by Louis Duffy were assigned to the Imperial War Museum (Camouflage, 1943, A block-house somewhere in England and The entrance to a factory, 1943). A fourth painting was lodged with the Tyne & Wear Museums (Aftermath) and a fifth work, sent to New Zealand, ended up in Wellington’s National Art Gallery and subsequently Te Papa Tongarewa (Casualty no. 1).

While details of Duffy’s early career still remain obscure, his life can be sparsely reconstructed from the outbreak of the Second World War. His correspondence with the WAAC over their purchase of the five paintings listed above confirms his residence in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, throughout most of the war years, the period when he seems to have painted Christ driving out the money changers. Records held at the Leamington Spa Art Gallery and Museum confirm that Duffy was resident there between 1939 and 1944 (presumably living most of this time at 23 St Mary’s Road), with a permanent address of 112 Chace Road, Southgate, London. He is listed as a ‘painter, designer, mural decorator, mosaic artist and craftsman’.21 ‘Artists, architects, structural engineers and buildings technicians who were engaged in camouflage work in Leamington Spa between the years 1939–1944’, Leamington Spa Art Gallery and Museum Archives.

It was from Leamington Spa that Duffy wrote to the WAAC, negotiating the purchase by the committee of his Aftermath for £15 in October 1940, and Casualty no. 1 for £12 in the following December. In January 1941, however, the WAAC declined to purchase another work, Casualty no. 2 (currently unlocated).22 To WAAC, 1940–41, Imperial War Museum, Second World War Artists Archive,
L. Duffy file GP / 55/ 85.
While nothing is yet known of Duffy’s personal life, his patriotism and generosity of character emerge from correspondence in which he asks the committee to accept a reduced price for his Aftermath: ‘As I am engaged on work in a Government Department and don’t feel like making money out of the war I am quite prepared to reduce the price to £10 and I would be glad if you will take this as the figure’. He would be grateful, however, for the return of the painting’s packing material ‘as it is very hard to come by’.23 To E. M. O’Rourke Dickey, WAAC; stamped as received by the Ministry of Information, 16 Oct. 1940, Duffy file, IWM. No further works were acquired by the committee until early 1943, when a final three paintings were purchased from Duffy.24 These were the aforementioned Camouflage, A block-house somewhere in England and The entrance to a factory. These paintings are titled slightly differently in Duffy’s letters of Feb. and May 1943 as Camouflage execution, Factory entrance and Blockhouse, Duffy file, IWM.

In March 1943, intriguingly, Louis Duffy wrote to WAAC staffer Elmslie Owen:

I am coming up to town one day next week to see Irwin who is in hospital and as I have a painting – not on camouflage – that I want to submit to the committee, I thought of bringing it up, with packing being hard to get. I would like to see you as I have an idea I would like to discuss with you. I don’t think it has been done, though paintings of this subject, probably, would not be exhibited in war time.25 To Elmslie Owen, WAAC, 30 Mar. 1943, Duffy file, IWM.

This correspondence might be seen to raise another possibility. If Christ driving out the money changers is not to be identified with the Military objectives sent to the Royal Academy in 1942, could it perhaps be the unusual and possibly controversial subject of the painting referred to in this letter of 1943? Could Duffy have later also brought this new painting up to London himself, ‘with packing being hard to get’, thus explaining the presence of the sticker on the stretcher of the Melbourne painting reading ‘Passenger Train / Louis C. Duffy / 23 St Mary’s Road / Leamington / Warwickshire’?

But was ‘Christ and the money changers’, or at least Duffy’s arms race variant of it, simply too topical a subject for him to have exhibited at this time? Perhaps not. Britain prided itself on the freedom of expression it allowed its citizens even at the height of the war, so rather than being unpatriotic for its time, Duffy’s anti-war allegory could arguably have been accepted as a valid lament over the politics of world armament that had contributed to the current hostilities. Being opposed to war in general did not necessarily imply opposition to Britain’s war effort in particular, and Duffy was actively engaged in the latter.

Louis Duffy’s letters to the WAAC were occasionally penned on official stationery of the Ministry of Home Security, Civil Defence Camouflage Establishment, Leamington Spa, but were also addressed at times from 23 St Mary’s Road and from Leamington’s Regent Hotel, which operated as a central club for Civil Defence workers, where they could relax, socialise and have their clothes laundered.26 ‘From 1939 to 1945 the [camouflage] unit used the Regent as its offices and social centre. The work was done at the Rink (now the site of the Loft Theatre) and the artists, many of whom were Royal Academicians, were billeted in homes around the town’, in ‘All is now revealed’, Leamington Spa Courier, 14 Feb. 1992. Leamington Spa was a major centre for defensive camouflage research at this time and Duffy was one of 127 artists and skilled technicians who were billeted in the town during the war years, employed by the Ministry of Home Security.27 Lamenting the temporary wartime closure of the Leamington Art Gallery in 1940, alderman Alfred Holt noted ‘We are favoured with the presence of more artists in Leamington than ever before. Sixty are here as Civil Servants’. ‘Alderman Holt and closing of the art gallery’, Leamington Spa Courier, 4 Oct. 1940. The recent exhibition Camouflage, and Tim Newark’s accompanying publication explored the vital role played by artists in designing new techniques and patterns for camouflaging during the Second World War (see Tim Newark, Camouflage, Thames & Hudson/Imperial War Museum, London, 2007, pp. 108–11, 142–3). That Duffy himself was fascinated by the many forms of camouflage production and research being undertaken in Leamington is indicated by the subjects of his 1943 paintings Camouflage, depicting concealment netting strung above an access way, and The entrance to a factory, which shows an aerial view of industrial buildings being disguised with a painted disruptive pattern (figs 6 & 7).28 ‘An alternative camouflage scheme for factories had been suggested by an Air Raid Precautions Handbook of 1939 entitled Camouflage of Large Installations. This gave two variants for painting a spread of factory roofs. One was an imitative pattern in which local colours such as tile red, slate grey, buff ground, black shadows and green grass were applied to the top of the factory in order to make it look like nearby housing; the other variant was to use the same colours but in a random disruptive pattern’. (Newark p. 110). The Civil Defence Camouflage Establishment at Leamington Spa was occasionally targeted for bombing by the Luftwaffe because of the sensitive nature of the research conducted there, as was the Automotive Products Company in Tachbrook Road, which was involved in weapons production. Duffy’s Casualty no. 1 and Aftermath could therefore possibly represent local destruction rather than the chaos of the Blitz in London.29 Indeed, Foss situates the air raid damage depicted in Louis Duffy’s Aftermath in Leamington Spa’s Civil Defence Camouflage Establishment (p. 41).

The Leamington Art Gallery, requisitioned for war service in 1940, was eventually occupied by the British Naval Research Laboratory, and scientists and artists worked together there to investigate camouflage painting techniques that could help protect Allied shipping from German U-boat and aerial attacks. Advances on Norman Wilkinson’s disruptive Dazzle patterns from the First World War were tested here on model ships in flotation tanks, before backdrops painted to resemble the geographies and climates of diverse theatres of war.30 Newark, pp. 142–3. The brief biographical listing for Louis Duffy in the Leamington archives states that in late 1944 he was employed as a model maker with a wartime intelligence agency of the United States, the Office of Strategic Services. He may possibly therefore have been involved in the experiments with shipping camouflage that were undertaken at Leamington’s commandeered art gallery, using models and painted sets. Certainly this would explain his shift, postwar, into the science museum sector.

At the close of the war Louis Duffy’s work was exhibited twice at the Royal Academy, London. Camouflage was shown in the 1945 Exhibition of National War Pictures, and Quiet farm was accepted for the academy’s summer showing that year. He also had work included in the Royal Academy’s first overflow exhibition, held at the Grundy Art Galleries, Blackpool in 1945.31 ‘A miniature Royal Academy exhibition – the first of its kind – was opened yesterday at the Grundy Art Gallery, Blackpool. It consists of 233 oil-paintings and watercolours which, though passed by the Royal Academy Council as suitable for exhibition, were crowded out of Burlington House’. ‘Royal Academy Overflow’, The Guardian, 12 July 1945. In a short piece devoted to this regional exhibition, the Times noted: ‘Louis Duffy’s problem pictures, “The Buyers and Sellers” and “The Agony in the Garden,” which translate Biblical themes into modern terms, are intriguing’.32 ‘Art exhibition at Blackpool. Pictures “crowded out” of the academy’, The Times, 16 July 1945, p. 6.

Christ driving out the money changers is surely one of these ‘problem pictures’ in which Duffy updates a Biblical narrative to modern times. While it is tempting to identify it with The buyers and sellers referred to by the Times, a title that would certainly suit its arms race retake on the New Testament story, no evidence is available to corroborate such an attribution. It is difficult, indeed, to make many firm statements about Louis Duffy, current knowledge of whose activities as an exhibiting artist relates primarily to the war years. Apart from the NGV’s recent acquisition, and the aforementioned Quiet farm, only three paintings by Duffy seem to have appeared in major auctions in recent decades. The cable layers, 1938 (Sotheby’s London, June 1990), is his earliest dated easel painting, and The market-place, Nice, 1949–50 (Sotheby’s London, October 1989), is currently his latest known oil on canvas. The third canvas, The wedding guests (undated), which has been auctioned twice (Sotheby’s London, March 1990 and September 1999), is virtually identical in size to Christ driving out the money changers and may well be another ‘problem picture’ waiting to be decoded.

After the war Louis Duffy evidently continued to paint easel pictures such as The market-place, Nice. To earn a living, however, he appears to have taught art and to have worked increasingly in the museum world. From the 1950s he painted murals for the London Science Museum, South Kensington, and worked on dioramas and models for several of the museum’s departments. In 1953 he received a commission to paint an enormous mural devoted to the history of transport. Duffy was to execute hundreds of preparatory drawings for this gigantic opus, conceived as two hundred and fifty feet long and five feet high, which aimed to ‘tell the story of road transport from 5,000 B.C. to the jet age’ and was to be ‘one of the central features of the museum’s Transport Gallery’.33 ‘Art is long’, Nottingham Guardian Journal, 31 Jan. 1961; Science Museum archives, London. Because of various factors this project was abandoned in the early 1960s when Duffy had brought just nine metres of the mural to a state of high finish. Photographs taken at this time offer us a glimpse of the artist’s physical appearance (fig. 8). They also provide a link back to Christ driving out the money changers, inviting speculation that the third figure from the left in the Gallery’s recently acquired painting is in fact a self-portrait.

Duffy worked for the Science Museum throughout the 1960s, completing a series of canvases measuring approximately three metres by seven metres that were subsequently installed as murals, which remain in situ today in the museum’s Shipping and Marine Engineering galleries.34 These included Steam and rail of the nineteenth century and Turbine steamers and motor ships of the twentieth century, 1962–63, The origin and development of paddle propulsion, 1964–65, and The development of screw propulsion, 1965–66. He also appears to have collaborated with other institutions on the preparation of archaeological and scientific dioramas, such as a painted underwater setting for a plesiosaur skeleton from the Upper Liassic period that was installed at the University of Manchester in 1969–70.35 Frederick M. Broadhurst & L. Duffy, ‘A plesiosaur in the Geology Department, University of Manchester’, Museums Journal, vol. 70, no. 1, June 1970, pp. 30–1. If this crossover into the museum industry coincided with what one suspects was a concomitant withdrawal from the British art world, this may explain why Louis Duffy has disappeared from accounts of twentieth-century British art history.

Duffy was still working for the Science Museum as late as 1982, when he constructed a diorama of The Liverpool Telephone Exchange, 1884. His correspondence with the museum from this date indicates that he was living in Seaford, a small seaside town in east Sussex, within walking distance (sixteen kilometres) of Eastbourne. This enables a likely identification of the artist with the Louis Charles Duffy who died in Eastbourne in March 1998, at the age of eighty-nine, providing life dates for our artist of 1908–1998.36 See http://www.ancestry.com ‘England and Wales, death index: 1984–2005’ (subscription only). Louis Duffy was thus thirty-one years old at the outbreak of the Second World War, and seventy-four years of age at the time of his last documented work for the Science Museum.

Much still remains to be discovered about Louis Duffy, and about the full meaning and context of the National Gallery of Victoria’s recent acquisition, Christ driving out the money changers. For now, though, we have unlocked at least some of the secrets of this artist who has left us a remarkable visual record of the plight of Britain’s civilians, at the height of the Blitz, as they found themselves to be new military objectives.

Ted Gott, Senior Curator, International Art, National Gallery of Victoria (in 2008)

Notes

For their assistance with my researches into the life of Louis Duffy, I am most grateful to: Mary Kisler, Mackelvie Curator of International Art, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki; Lola Wilkins, Head of Art, and Janda Gooding, Senior Curator of Art, Australian War Memorial, Canberra; Professor Michael Rosenthal, Chair and Dr Louise Campbell, Department of the History of Art, University of Warwick, Coventry, West Midlands; Chloe Johnson, Curatorial Officer, Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum, and Judith Harridge, Local Studies Librarian, Leamington Library, Warwickshire; Roger Tolson, Head of Art, and Matt Brosnan, Documentation Officer, Imperial War Museum, London; Peter Nahum, Leicester Galleries, London; Magda Kearney, Assistant Curator of Photographs, National Portrait Gallery, London; Jane Insley, Curator, and Michelle Goodman, Corporate Information and Enquiries Officer, Science Museum, London; John Payne, Senior Conservator of Painting, Laurie Benson, Curator of International Art, Sophie Matthiesson, Curator of International Art, David Belzycki, Manager of Cataloguing, and Michael Watson, Senior Librarian, Shaw Research Library, National Gallery of Victoria; Robert Gott, Monica Healy, David Kisler and Richard Linden.

1     See Ted Gott, Laurie Benson & Sophie Matthiesson, Modern Britain 1900–1960: Masterworks from Australian and New Zealand Collections, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2007, p. 238 (reprod.).

2     20th Century British and Irish Art, Sotheby’s Olympia, London, 7 Sept. 2006, lot 71.

3     In the National Gallery of Victoria’s cataloguing conventions, the use of circa implies a two-year window either side of the central date, thus giving a potential window of 1938–42 for the creation of Duffy’s painting.

4     ‘Money lenders’ is a misnomer. In Christ’s day the financial dealers who gathered at the Temple in Jerusalem did not lend money, but changed foreign coinage into the local currency that alone could be used to pay for religious ceremonies.

5     Keith Bell, Stanley Spencer. A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings, Phaidon, London, 1992, pp. 57–8, 421–2.

6     See Lou Klepac, ‘Perth’s great Spencer’, The Art Gallery of Western Australia Bulletin, 1979, pp. 4–9. Stanley Spencer’s youthful engagement with religious subject matter, along with a renewed dialogue with the Italian old masters, had been reawakened by his experiences in the First World War. Both interests were encouraged around 1919–21 by his friendships with fellow artist Eric Gill and the collector Sir Henry Slesser. See Bell, pp. 55–7.

7     ‘Leeds University War Memorial. A controversial design’, The Times, Tuesday 22 May 1923, p. 15.

8     Eric Gill, quoted in Judith Collins, Eric Gill the Sculpture: A Catalogue Raisonné [1998], Herbert Press, London, 2006, pp. 134–5.

9     Jacob Simon, The Art of the Picture Frame. Artists, Patrons and the Framing of Portraits in Britain, National Portrait Gallery, London, 1996, p. 135;
see also pp. 79, 88. The frame also bears a considerably aged sticker from the London firm of James Bourlet & Sons Frame Makers and Packers, inscribed ‘L. Duffy’ and ‘1403’. Another Bourlet sticker on the painting’s stretcher is stamped 22010. Since Stiles seems the most likely candidate for the manufacture of this frame, these Bourlet stickers perhaps refer to the transport of Duffy’s painting at various times. Bourlet’s archives were destroyed by fire in the mid 1980s, eliminating this line of enquiry.

10     Sotheby’s London, 11 Oct. 1989, lot 117, where it was dated to the late 1930s.

11     The Royal Academy holds no archival photographs of its 1942 exhibition, nor was an illustrated catalogue produced in that year. We have not yet located any reviews of the exhibition that may help identify the appearance of Duffy’s ‘Military objectives’, 1942.

12     J. B. Morton, Blitz: War Pictures by British Artists, no. 2, Oxford University Press, London, 1942, p. 59.

13     ibid., p. 6.

14     Brian Foss, War Paint. Art, War, State and Identity in Britain 1939–1945, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2007, p. 19.

15     Kenneth Clark, ‘War artists at the National Gallery’, The Studio, vol. 123, no. 586, Jan. 1942, p. 2.

16     See Monroe Wheeler (ed.), Britain at War, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1941. In his introduction, Wheeler noted: ‘In defending a civilization there should be as little dislocation or abandonment of the civilizing arts as possible, and as much continuance and preservation as we can possibly afford. The artist is an extreme specialist and sometimes, even with the best will in the world, cannot become a first-rate soldier. The necessity of his talent for such things as posters and camouflage is well understood. And the influence of painting as a fine art may also be enlisted in the common cause, as the British have shown us’ (p. 10).

17     Henry Vollam Morton, ‘War and the artist’, in Exhibition of British War Pictures, Commonwealth Government, Canberra, 1943, p. 10.

18     ibid., p. 8.

19     ibid., p. 17.

20     Foss, pp. 202–4.

21     ‘Artists, architects, structural engineers and buildings technicians who were engaged in camouflage work in Leamington Spa between the years 1939–1944’, Leamington Spa Art Gallery and Museum Archives.

22     To WAAC, 1940–41, Imperial War Museum, Second World War Artists Archive,
L. Duffy file GP / 55/ 85.

23     To E. M. O’Rourke Dickey, WAAC; stamped as received by the Ministry of Information, 16 Oct. 1940, Duffy file, IWM.

24     These were the aforementioned Camouflage, A block-house somewhere in England and The entrance to a factory. These paintings are titled slightly differently in Duffy’s letters of Feb. and May 1943 as Camouflage execution, Factory entrance and Blockhouse, Duffy file, IWM.

25     To Elmslie Owen, WAAC, 30 Mar. 1943, Duffy file, IWM.

26     ‘From 1939 to 1945 the [camouflage] unit used the Regent as its offices and social centre. The work was done at the Rink (now the site of the Loft Theatre) and the artists, many of whom were Royal Academicians, were billeted in homes around the town’, in ‘All is now revealed’, Leamington Spa Courier, 14 Feb. 1992.

27     Lamenting the temporary wartime closure of the Leamington Art Gallery in 1940, alderman Alfred Holt noted ‘We are favoured with the presence of more artists in Leamington than ever before. Sixty are here as Civil Servants’. ‘Alderman Holt and closing of the art gallery’, Leamington Spa Courier, 4 Oct. 1940. The recent exhibition Camouflage, and Tim Newark’s accompanying publication explored the vital role played by artists in designing new techniques and patterns for camouflaging during the Second World War (see Tim Newark, Camouflage, Thames & Hudson/Imperial War Museum, London, 2007, pp. 108–11, 142–3).

28     ‘An alternative camouflage scheme for factories had been suggested by an Air Raid Precautions Handbook of 1939 entitled Camouflage of Large Installations. This gave two variants for painting a spread of factory roofs. One was an imitative pattern in which local colours such as tile red, slate grey, buff ground, black shadows and green grass were applied to the top of the factory in order to make it look like nearby housing; the other variant was to use the same colours but in a random disruptive pattern’. (Newark p. 110).

29     Indeed, Foss situates the air raid damage depicted in Louis Duffy’s Aftermath in Leamington Spa’s Civil Defence Camouflage Establishment (p. 41).

30     Newark, pp. 142–3.

31     ‘A miniature Royal Academy exhibition – the first of its kind – was opened yesterday at the Grundy Art Gallery, Blackpool. It consists of 233 oil-paintings and watercolours which, though passed by the Royal Academy Council as suitable for exhibition, were crowded out of Burlington House’. ‘Royal Academy Overflow’, The Guardian, 12 July 1945.

32     ‘Art exhibition at Blackpool. Pictures “crowded out” of the academy’, The Times, 16 July 1945, p. 6.

33     ‘Art is long’, Nottingham Guardian Journal, 31 Jan. 1961; Science Museum archives, London.

34     These included Steam and rail of the nineteenth century and Turbine steamers and motor ships of the twentieth century, 1962–63, The origin and development of paddle propulsion, 1964–65, and The development of screw propulsion, 1965–66.

35     Frederick M. Broadhurst & L. Duffy, ‘A plesiosaur in the Geology Department, University of Manchester’, Museums Journal, vol. 70, no. 1, June 1970, pp. 30–1.

36     See http://www.ancestry.com ‘England and Wales, death index: 1984–2005’ (subscription only).