Stella Bowen : Art, Love and War


Period: The war years

Bombing up a Lancaster for Wing Commander DouglasBombing up a Lancaster for Wing Commander Douglas
painted in London, 1944
oil on hardboard 63.4 x 76.2 cm
signed l.r., oil “STELLA/BOWEN”, not dated
Australian War Memorial
acquired under official war art scheme, 1944

Stella Bowen arrived at her first assignment as an official war artist, the RAF station at Binbrook in Lincolnshire, feeling distinctly awkward in her new uniform. This was the home of 460 Squadron, the oldest Australian squadron in Bomber Command and one of the most decorated. It suffered the highest losses of any Australian squadron, with over 900 of its aircrew having been killed.

Bowen saw the Lancaster as “a most sinister looking thing – like a terrifying insect, full of eggs”. To heighten the impact of this weapon of war, Bowen juxtaposed it against a tranquil English landscape.

The figure calmly observing the Lancaster being loaded is Wing Commander John Keith Douglas, DFC. In May 1944 he became, at age 22, the youngest RAAF officer to command a bomber squadron. He was killed during a bombing raid over Germany in February 1945.