Phyllis Shafto & Blitz Memories
Phyllis Shafto was born on 18th of March, 1904. Her childhood was spent between Boston and Skegness, but she moved to London in the 1930s where she lived in Hampstead and began producing watercolour artwork. Her work at that time focused mainly on life in London, but she also painted rural scenes during this time. Before the outbreak of the Second World War, Phyllis Shafto exhibited her work at the Royal Society of British Artists and the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours. When the Second World War began, Shafto was still living in London and working for the BBC. She aspired to be a war artist, as shown in letters from this time, and she continued to paint images of the city. It is during this time that she produced the collection of works entitled St Paul’s After the Blitz (1943).
St Paul’s After the Blitz is a series of drawings and watercolour paintings depicting the damage that the Blitz inflicted upon the landmark’s surroundings. These are observational drawings, and Shafto uses delicate linework to capture the architectural detail of the building and the rubble it rises above. Shafto’s shading is realistic, yet gentle, and it gracefully adds more depth to the scene, creating atmospheric perspective. Her usage of colour is muted, which does well in representing the mournful reality of the scene.
However, Shafto’s artwork offers just a tiny insight into the views that were all too familiar to those living in London during the Blitz.
The Blitz was a bombing campaign led by Nazi Germany which ran from September 1940 to May 1941 and robbed around 43,000 civilians of their lives and destroyed over a million homes. The casualties from the Blitz make up almost half of the civilian deaths recorded in the United Kingdom from the Second World War.
Shafto’s work, though beautiful, scarcely represents the merciless nature of the bombing, and the public’s resilient reaction to the German campaign.
I asked my grandfather who was a child living in London during the Blitz to talk about his experiences and what the situation meant to him. He provided a written account of his memories from the time and I created illustrations to help tell his story.