John Travers Cornwell, Boy 1st class (1900-16)

This painting was part of an intended series of portraits of Victoria Cross holders commissioned from McEvoy, a fashionable society portrait painter who was also a war artist. He worked from photographs but found the task daunting and it was never completed. Cornwell was a 16-year-old gun sight-setter on HMS ‘Chester’. When the ship went into action at the Battle of Jutland (31 May 1916) all his gun crew were killed or wounded but Cornwell remained at his post despite fatal injuries. His portrait became the icon for this complex and ambiguous battle which, on balance, the British won but of which Churchill remarked that Admiral Jellicoe could also ‘have lost the war in an afternoon’. Cornwell was a perfect example to small boys on how to serve their country, and to those adults who had failed to recognize the importance of duty and self sacrifice at a time of mass unionization, strikes and suffragette protest. According to the Daily Mirror on 22 September 1916 ‘Celebrations were held yesterday in the elementary schools throughout the kingdom in honour of Jack Cornwell, VC.’ The article was accompanied by a photograph of pupils at Walton Road School, Ilford, saluting a portrait of the boy hero who had been a pupil there, while his mother and sister look on.

Object Details

ID: BHC2635
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Display - QH
Creator: McEvoy, (Arthur) Ambrose
Date made: circa 1918
Exhibition: War Artists at Sea
People: Cornwell, John Travers
Credit: On loan to the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London. Kindly lent by Mrs Mona McEvoy
Measurements: Painting: 508 mm x 406 mm; Frame: 660 mm x 555 mm x 71 mm; Overall: 5.4 kg

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