Royal Museums Greenwich Secures WWII Art Never-Before Displayed In a Public Museum

Royal Museums Greenwich (RMG) has recently acquired a collection of 17 drawings by extraordinary WWII artist and Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) nurse, Rosemary Rutherford (1912-1972), from Sim Fine Art.

The works, which have never been on display in a public museum before, were purchased as a result of the upcoming publication of Art and the War at Sea (edited by Christine Riding, Head of Art and Curator of the Queen’s House at Royal Museums Greenwich) – the first survey of war art from a maritime perspective and drawing on the Museum’s extensive collection.

Trained at the Slade School of Art, Rosemary Rutherford became a Red Cross nurse in 1940 and experienced first-hand the casualties, suffering and disorientation of war. After obtaining permission from the War Artists Advisory Committee, she began recording her experiences of WWII through haunting and evocative drawings of nurses, hospital staff and convalescing sailors.

Not only do these works give an insight into women’s role during the war, they also highlight Rutherford’s feelings as a devout Christian and the drawings often focus on the themes of rebirth and Christ-like resurrection which may have been influenced by Slade School alumnus and renowned war artist, Stanley Spencer.

The acquisition of these works complements the Museum’s existing collection of fine war art which includes drawings by the Wren Gladys E. Reed and merchant seaman John Kingsley Cook. It also creates an opportunity for the Museum to further examine and explore the topic of convalescence of seafaring personnel as well as enrich its holdings of works produced by female war artists.

Art and the War at Sea, which features Rutherford’s work and lesser discussed artists such as William Dring and Stephen Bone, is published on 16 October 2015 and is a significant compilation of essays and images focusing on the cultural history of the war at sea told through the National Maritime Museum’s collection.

Having secured the drawings, RMG will initially conserve and digitize the collection, and then a small selection of the drawings will go on display for the first time at the Museum’s adult Halloween event, Voyage of the Damned, on 31 October 2015. At this event, Christine Riding will discuss the poignant drawings as well as the upcoming publication of the book.

Christine Riding, Head of Art and Curator of the Queen’s House at Royal Museums Greenwich, said: ‘We are absolutely thrilled and honoured to have the war art of Rosemary Rutherford, a VAD nurse during the Second World War, represented at Greenwich. Her sensitive and often deeply spiritual observations on naval hospital life are unique in our collections, not least because they range in ambition from the specific to the truly universal.’

The newly acquired material was purchased by the Museum with the assistance of the Society for Nautical Research Macpherson Collection Endowment Fund.

Notes to Editors

Royal Museums Greenwich incorporates the National Maritime Museum, the Royal Observatory Greenwich, Cutty Sark, and the 17th-century Queen’s House. Royal Museums Greenwich works to illustrate for everyone the importance of the sea, ships, time and the stars and their relationship with people.

This unique collection of attractions, which form a key part of the Maritime Greenwich UNESCO World Heritage Site, welcomes over two million British and international visitors a year and is also a major centre of education and research.

Items acquired

  • Operating Theatre (Watercolour, ink and graphite on paper), 1943-4, Rosemary Rutherford
  • Eye Department with Operating Theatre, 1943-4, Rosemary Rutherford
  • Ear examination (Watercolour on paper), 1943-4, Rosemary Rutherford
  • Eye Examination (Watercolour on paper), 1943-4, Rosemary Rutherford
  • A Hospital Ward (Watercolour on paper), 1943-4, Rosemary Rutherford
  • Nursing Sister, 1943-4, Rosemary Rutherford
  • A Convalescing Sailor attended by Two Nurses (Graphite and wash on paper), 1943-4, Rosemary Rutherford
  • Two sailors and nurse, 1943-4, Rosemary Rutherford
  • A Doctor Reading (Graphite and wash on paper), 1943-4, Rosemary Rutherford
  • Sailors in Shelter (Charcoal), 1943-4, Rosemary Rutherford
  • Sailors in Shelter (Wash and pen), 1943-4, Rosemary Rutherford 'Chippy' - the Carpenter on HMS 'Curacoa' (Watercolour on paper), 1943-4, Rosemary Rutherford
  • Portrait of Sailor, 1943-4, Rosemary Rutherford Portrait of Two Sailors (Graphite on Paper), 1943-4, Rosemary Rutherford
  • Launch, 1943-4, Rosemary Rutherford Launch , 1943-4, Rosemary Rutherford
  • Westcliff-on-Sea, 1943-4, Rosemary Rutherford

For further information or images, please contact: Emma Gough, Royal Museums Greenwich Press Office Tel: 020 8312 6789 | 07960 509802 or Email: