Bardia (action leading to the fall of Post II)

The campaign against the Italians in Libya was the first in which the Australians were involved during the Second World War. After a rapid advance across the desert the Allied forces found Bardia heavily fortified and strongly defended. After a hard fight Bardia was taken in January 1941 and thousands of Italians became prisoners of war. To many Australians, this battle had been a test of their equality with the men of the First World War and they believed they had passed it. The Allied forces continued to advance through Libya, until met and pushed back to Egypt by the Germans.

Bardia
Bardia (action leading to the fall of Post II)
painted in Aldinga, South Austrlia in 1967
oil on canvas
153 x 275cm
acquired under commission in 1968

AWM ART27576

When Hele accepted the commission for a major painting of the attack at Bardia in North Africa he had been a civilian for fourteen years. He was not in Bardia at the time of the attack and relied on a collection of photographs provided by one of the survivors, Henry ‘Jo ’Gullett, to complete this painting. Gullet appears in the painting as the man being dragged from the bodies.

Hele deliberately chose to paint the event at close range, placing the viewer within the confines of the underground shelter. By doing so he draws attention to our position as viewers and describes our close engagement ith the subject. The only source of light comes directly from the top centre of the painting, a brilliant orange glow, indicating a fiery battle. This eerie light permeates the painting and highlights the clenched fists and distorted faces of the dead.

The dramatic use of light and perspective adopted by Hele in this painting clearly shows his development as an artist when compared with a painting of similar dimensions, Australian troops disembarking at Alexandria after the evacuation of Greece, completed in 1943. In Bardia the extreme contrast of light and dark creates an emotional and moving effect: the viewer is immediately drawn into the scene.

Questions and discussion
Discuss the influence of photography in relation to the unusual composition of this work.

Describe what might have happened before the action in this painting. Consider the moment in time which the work of art represents.

Any attempt to draw objectively so close to the viewer as Hele does in this painting, creates extreme distortions. How has Hele corrected the image?

Practical exercise
Using magazines or newspapers make a drawing or painting of an event involving many figures.

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