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A Balloon Site, Coventry, 1942
oil on canvas
102.5 cm × 127 cm (40.4 in × 50 in)

Source: Wikimedia Commons

A Balloon Site, Coventry is an oil on canvas painting undertaken in 1942 by the British artist Laura Knight. It portrays a group of people – mostly women – working to launch a barrage balloon in the outskirts of Coventry, an industrial city in the Midlands.

Coventry had been protected by barrage balloons since March 1939. From April 1941 women were used to operate the balloons, a crew of fourteen women replacing the ten men that had done so until then.[1] Filled with hydrogen and anchored to the ground by steel cables, the balloons forced aircraft to fly higher than their preferred altitude, making their bombing less accurate and the bombers more vulnerable to ground-based anti-aircraft fire.[1][2][3][a]The protection provided by the balloons was limited; on 14 November 1940 Coventry was the target of a German bombing raid, during which more than 10,000 incendiary bombs were dropped on the city.[2]

In early 1942 Laura had painted In for Repairs, showing members of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) repairing a damaged barrage balloon, which so impressed the Air Ministry that it requested she paint the WAAF in action. She was commissioned by the War Artists’ Advisory Committee (WAAC) and paid 100 guineas for the work,[4][5] which was undertaken in July and August 1942.[6]

A Balloon Site was displayed at the 1943 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, along with Ruby Loftus Screwing a Breech Ring (1943).[6] As at 2020, the painting is held by the Imperial War Museum.[1]

Composition


A Balloon Site shows the launch of a barrage balloon on the outskirts of Coventry. In the middle distance are several damaged buildings,[7] with the partial ruins of Coventry shown in the background.[5] In the foreground two groups work on launching the balloon. The group in the foreground – composed of three women and one man – are under the leadership of Jean Brydon, a female sergeant. A second group is shown on the far side of the balloon.[7][8][9]

According to the art historians Teresa Grimes, Judith Collins and Oriana Baddeley, A Balloon Site and In For Repairs “are about activity, the concentration and absorption in work generated by a group endeavour are central to their composition”.[10]

Notes[+]

Citations



Bibliography


Foss, B. (2007). War Paint: Art, War, State and Identity in Britain. Yale University Press.
Grimes, T., Collins, J., & Baddeley, O. (1991). Five Women Painters. Lennard.
Imperial War Museums. (n.d.). A Balloon Site, Coventry. https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/15503
Lambourne, N. (2001). War Damage in Western Europe: The Destruction of Historic Monuments During the Second World War. Edinburgh University Press.
McGrory, D. (2015). Coventry’s Blitz. Amberley Publishing.
Morden, B. (2013). Laura Knight: A Life. McNidder and Grace.
Speck, C. (2014). Beyond the Battlefield. Reaktion Books.
Staff writer. (1943, May 6). Coventry Scene an Academy Success. Coventry Evening Telegraph, 1.
Wosk, J. (2001). Woman and the Machine: representations from the Spinnng Wheel to the Electronic Age. John Hopkins University Press.