The war years

Stella Bowen was almost ready to give up any hope of making a career as a painter when she was offered a commission as an official war artist in 1943. She was given the honorary rank of captain and issued with an Australian Women’s Army Service uniform to allow her greater access to restricted military areas.

She had already become fascinated with painting the effects of war on civilian London and hoped to explore this further. However, her commission took her mainly into the world of the Royal Australian Air Force and, later, the lives of returned prisoners of war. Although she found it extremely demanding, the war work had allowed her to resolve ideas about painting that she might otherwise not have pursued.

After the war ended, Bowen sought repatriation to Australia. Sadly, in 1947 she found she had cancer; too frail to make the journey home, she died in London, having never returned to her homeland. She was only 54 years old.