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Story of WW1 Belgian refugees to be told through work of Frank Brangwyn

Help is better than sympathy

Frank Brangwyn and the First World War

Saturday 24 May – Sunday 14 September 2014

Private view: Thursday 22 May, 6-8pm

William Morris Gallery

Forest Road, Walthamstow E17 4PP

Wednesday to Sunday, 10am - 5pm; admission free

A new exhibition at Waltham Forest Council’s William Morris Gallery will trace the little-known story of First World War Belgian refugees through the work of painter and illustrator Frank Brangwyn.

At the start of the First World War, more than a million Belgian refugees fled the advancing armies, seeking sanctuary abroad. Around 250,000 made it to England – one of the largest groups of refugees in British history - and found a sympathetic welcome. Local relief committees formed all over the country, raising funds to sustain them during their time in exile.

The exhibition in Walthamstow takes its title from a poster designed by Brangwyn for the Belgian & Allies Aid League. “Will you help these sufferers from the war to start a new home,” it asks. “Help is better than sympathy.”

Bruges-born Brangwyn, already a well-known and successful artist before 1914, became a prolific poster-maker during the war and his designs became synonymous with First World War propaganda. Many present the horrors of the war, while others aim to recruit soldiers and vilify the enemy. One propaganda poster in particular was so violent that the German Kaiser allegedly put a price on Brangwyn’s head.

Help is better than sympathy presents some of Brangwyn’s best known posters, including ‘The Retreat from Antwerp’ and ‘The Remaking of Belgium’, alongside lesser known work. Shown together they offer an opportunity to examine Brangwyn’s attitude to the First World War, and the Belgian refugees in particular, using the Gallery’s rich collection.

Cllr Ahsan Khan, Cabinet Member for Health and Wellbeing, said: “I’m delighted that the William Morris Gallery is to host yet another world-class exhibition, following the huge success of Jeremy Deller’s English Magic.

“I’m especially pleased that the local community will be able to experience first-hand so many important works by Frank Brangwyn, without whom there would be no William Morris Gallery. “

Curator Carien Kremer also commented: “The story of the Belgian refugees is a fascinating but little-known aspect of the First World War - to tell it through Brangwyn’s work is really exciting. Brangwyn’s war posters are among his most powerful and affecting work, not least because of his very personal connection to Belgium and its people.”

“Brangwyn was one of the most famous and celebrated artists of the early 20th century, but sadly his work doesn’t get that level of recognition today. One of the aims of the show is to bring Brangwyn’s achievements to a much wider audience. His support was instrumental in establishing the Gallery, but he should be celebrated as an important artist in his own right.”


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