Ben Uri collection

Soldiers in Town

Artist information

Name Barnett Freedman (1901-1958)

Born London, England

Died London, England

Find more work in the collection by this artist

The son of Russian-Jewish émigrés, Freedman was born in Stepney in the East End in 1901. As a child, he suffered extended ill health and had no formal schooling after the age of nine, but exhibited a precocious talent for drawing. He was first employed as a draughtsman to a monumental mason, architect and sign-writer, also taking evening classes at St Martin’s School of Art. He was admitted to the Royal College of Art upon the recommendation of William Rothenstein, then principal, where he studied under Paul Nash (1922¬–5). Freedman retained strong links with the RCA throughout his working life, as a tutor, examiner and, finally, as Honorary Fellow. Freedman served as a war artist during the Second World War and was awarded the CBE in 1946. He was elected as a Royal Designer for Industry in 1949, became an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Art in 1956 and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

Object Details

Date 1944

Object type painting

Medium oil on canvas

Materials and techniques oil (medium) painting (technique) canvas (support)

Unframed 61 x 91.5 cm

Framed 78 x 99 cm

Acquisition presented by the artist's son Vincent Freedman in 2010

Accession number 2010-3

Display status not on display

As a war artist, Freedman worked initially with the British Expeditionary Force in France, recording the construction of defences north of Arras. Critical of the difficulty in accessing his subject matter however, Freedman regularly aggravated his employers and was initially dismissed by the War Office in 1940 with the exasperated comment that ‘It is really more important to keep out the Germans than to take in Mr Barnett Freedman’. With the Admiralty, Freedman made illustrations of HMS Repulse and HM Submarine Tribune. In 1944 he went to Portsmouth headquarters of the Allied forces to document the final preparations for D-Day – an unfinished study for which is in the Ben Uri Collection. Also unfinished, Soldiers in Town depicts off-duty Allied soldiers walking through a Northern French town. The seemingly relaxed atmosphere, with children playing around them, perhaps anticipates the end of the war. Freedman also produced illustrations and typography for wartime information posters and commercial illustrations, particularly book jacket designs for the publisher Faber and Faber in London and for the Limited Edition Club, New York. He also produced posters for notable companies including J. Lyons & Co. Ltd., and Arthur Guinness & Sons Ltd.. As a commercial and industrial designer, Freedman also worked for William Macdonald & Sons (Biscuits) Ltd., Shell-Mex, BP, Elstree Film Studios and London Passenger Transport Board. He also designed a number of commemorative stamps for the General Post Office, including a George V Jubilee issue.

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© Barnett Freedman estate