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WW1 Masterpiece lent to Rotherham Museum for Armistice Day and the final centenary year of the war
Colonel Geoffrey Norton (retired) admires the painting.

ROTHERHAM.- On Saturday 11th November to coincide with Remembrance Day an exhibition opened in the York and Lancaster Regimental Museum housed within Clifton Park Museum in Rotherham, which focuses on the highly charged painting Eve of the Battle of the Somme by Sir Herbert James Gunn RA, which has been loaned by the Fleming- Wyfold Art Foundation.

The painting captures the abandon and exhilaration of young men swimming and relaxing - in contrast to the following day, when on the 1st July 1916 some 20,000 soldiers were to die in the first offensive of the Somme including many members of the famous Pals Brigades of the York and Lancaster Regiment.

Scottish painter, James Gunn (1893-1964), who had enlisted in the Artists’ Rifles in 1915, was stationed in northern France, where he briefly had a studio in the barracks. Two of his brothers were killed in France and Gunn himself was gassed. This picture is the only finished canvas known to have survived Gunn’s service in France. After the war Gunn became one of the most acclaimed portrait painters of his generation, famous for his iconic portraits of the royal family.

Director of the Fleming-Wyfold Art Foundation, James Knox, says: “Gunn’s painting with its poignant image of doomed youth at rest and play is the pictorial equivalent of the great poems written during WW1 by young British servicemen such as Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen. It serves an apt memorial to the sacrifices made during the slaughter of war.”

The exhibition, which looks at the effect of war on men and how they coped with it, also displays poems by three soldier-poets of the York and Lancaster Regiment, who died on the same day. Also on show is one of the iconic sculptures inspired by the war The Sentry by Rotherham-born, Charles Jagger. Like Gunn, he served through the war and went on to create some of the greatest memorials to the conflict including the Royal Artillery Memorial at London’s Hyde Park Corner.

Cllr Taiba Yasseen, Rotherham Council’s Cabinet Member for Neighbourhood Working and Cultural Services, who is also Cabinet Member responsible for Armed Forces, said: “It is a great honour to have this acclaimed painting loaned to us ahead of Remembrance Sunday, and I hope many residents will take the opportunity to visit the Museum and view this striking artwork.”

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