Self portrait, 1945
Framed (ref: 7654)
17 5/8 x 14 1/8 in. (45 x 36 cm)
Provenance: The Artist's Family
Exhibited: WW2 - War Pictures by British Artists, Morley College London, 28 October -23 November 2016, cat 147.
Literature: WW2 - War Pictures by British Artists, Edited by Sacha Llewellyn & Paul Liss, July 2016, cat 147, page 188.
During the war Finney served in the Ambulance Crews of the Air Raid Precautions Service, later named Civil Defence, for a period of four years until in 1945 he got pleurisy. The Civil Defence uniform consisted of blue dungarees with the ARP badge on their left breast.
In this self portrait Finney wears a red tie - suggesting that it dates to 1945 he was convalescing (red ties had been used since the First World War to show that the wearer was ill or wounded and that he was a Serviceman). Indeed in his unpublished autobiography Finney records that towards the end of the war: My health was beginning to show signs of breaking and I was sent to a Civial Defence Convalescent house after a serious broncial cold. I never ceased to draw and paint and I presented one painting to the Convaslacent Home before I left. I also painted a ceiling in a municipal theatre and the back stage in the depot of Kinston House and held a drawin class one evening a week for the Ambulance and Rescue Service Personell.
In addition to the red tie hospital clothing consisted of a dark blue serge military type suit, grey or greyish-blue shirt.
The Rescue Services - Heavy and Light - were Auxiliary Services that worked in close co-operation with the National Fire Service and the Auxiliary Fire Service. The latter put out the fires and the former searched the wreckage of damaged buildings in order to rescue anyone who might be trapped or to remove the bodies of those who had been killed in a raid. Some of this could be done manually (Light Branch), but heavy equipment - cranes etc - was required if major collapses had taken place (the Heavy Branch). Debris also had to be cleared off the streets in order that the life of the town/city could return, as near as possible, to normal as soon as possible. Essentially theirs was a clearing up job after having done their best to extricate casualties or victims.
Describing his acitivities in the Civil Defense Finney wrote:My work consisted of 24 hours on duty and 24 hours off and we were eventually organised into squads of five men including a driver to each rescue car. There wa s a lot training of first aid and stretcher bearing and for the first year during the so called phoney war conditions were primitive. This life was a new world to me because I came in contact with every type of human being, from a young lad who had been to Wellington College, Berkshire, to thieves and near criminal types and men from every walk of life. This new environment made me realise that if there were not millions of people who work at humble occupations what we call civilisation would not function. Among all thesedifferent types of human beings I never saw any violence between them and strangely enough after a year or two I felt they had an unspoken regard for someone who possessed my gift because I made many portrait drawings of them on condition that they sat for me twice and I sold the first one which usually was the best for five shillings.
As we were in contact with the Ambulance Service XXXX made many drawings of the nurses, and I had admiration for many of the Ambulance personell, who were youg firls of good breeding and social standing, for their courage during their work when the night boming started and we had no defences. During the early part of the Battle of Britain, I would go down to an Anderson Shelter in the garden of the house, in which I rented a room and the tenant above me a with with two young children also shared the shelter through the long night while the German planes did what they liked in the sky above because except for barrage balloons and a little aircraft fire we had no defences in the beginning of the second world war.
On the night of the night of the great fire of London when I could see the red glow increasing over central London, it was my day off from duty, and when I was in my room in Hammersmith I could hear the German Planes approaching at about 6.30 pm and I watched the fires gradually increasing around the city centre and this went on until almost midnight. ....
My passion for painting and drawing was always with me and becaue the building we were housed in at the the beginning of the war was dreaery and my associates were unawakened to the sense of beauty, my own yearning to create increased not diminished. .... I made a painting of a crater made by a time bomb in the garden of Kingston House where we were housed.....
My health was beginning to show signs of breaking and I was sent to a Civial Defence Convalescent house after a serious broncial cold. I never ceased to draw and paint and I presented one painting to the Convaslacent Home before I left. I also painted a ceiling in a municipal theatre and the back stage in the depot of Kinston House and held a drawing class one evening a week for the Ambulance and Rescue Service Personell.
We are grateful to Andrew Cormack and Nicholas Finney for assistance.
Hubert Arthur Finney (1905-1991)
Hugh Finney was a painter, draughtsman and teacher who trained initially at Bromley School of Art, where he attended evening classes from 1915, and then at Beckenham School of Art to where he won a trade scholarship in 1918. He studied painting with Amy Katherine Browning and etching with Eric Gill. Around 1927 he won a scholarship to the Royal College of Art, where he studied under William Rothenstein. Horton, Houthuesen, Ososki and Freedman were amongst his friends at the college. In 1929 after graduation he took up a travelling scholarship to Rome returning to teach part-time at Chelsea School of Art under Percy Jowett and later Harold Sandys Williamson. From 1927-1934 he exhibited at the NEAC. In 1935 his painting Mother and Child was acquired by Carlisle Art Gallery. During WW2 Finney worked for the light rescue service of the Civil Defense. After the war he taught part time under Anthony Betts at Reading University and was in charge of life drawing there when he retired in 1970. Although he was reclusive and reluctant to show his work he did exhibit at the RA Summer exhibition (in 1950 and 1954) and the Portrait Society and at The Paris Salon. A large solo exhibition took place at the University of Oxford's Institute of Education in 1964.
We are grateful to Nicholas Finney and David Buckman for assistance.
See all works by Hubert Arthur Finney