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Dazzled! How a British artist transformed the seas of WWI

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It was the middle of the First World War, and the Germans were engaged in a highly destructive campaign against the British Navy. By the spring of 1917, German submarines were successfully sinking as many as eight British ships a day, crippling Britain's defences. A solution was urgently needed.

A dazzling suggestion came from an unlikely source: artist Norman Wilkinson, renowned for his marine paintings and illustrations. His idea was to paint Britain's naval fleet with bright, disorientating shapes, so that the enemy would be unable to calculate the type, size, scale, speed, direction and distance of the ship in their sights. The authorities were so convinced by Wilkinson's idea, they 'dazzled' 2,300 ships through the course of WW1.

Over the last four years, 14-18 NOW, the UK's art programme for the First World War centenary, and Liverpool Biennial have co-commissioned five leading contemporary artists to create unique 'dazzle' designs that transform real-life ships in the UK and USA. In this HENI Talk, art historian and broadcaster Dr James Fox takes to the water and reveals the fascinating history of this hyper-visible camouflage and its artistic legacy.

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James Fox graduated with starred first-class honours in History of Art from Emmanuel College, Cambridge. He subsequently completed an MPhil in British modernism before spending a year on a Herchel Smith Scholarship to Harvard. He returned to Cambridge in 2006 to pursue doctoral research in art during the First World War. He spent Michaelmas 2010 at Yale University, as a visiting scholar at the British Art Center. In January 2011 he joined Gonville & Caius College as a Research Fellow.

James is the author of British Art and the First World War, 1914-1924 (2015). He is currently editing a volume of essays on C20th Canadian sculpture. In 2012 he signed a two-book deal with Allen Lane (Penguin), for whom he will write a Cultural History of Colour, and a History of Modern British Art. Recent publications include: '"Traitor Painters": Artists and espionage in the First World War' (British Art Journal 2009); '"Fiddling While Rome is Burning": perceptions of artists in wartime' (Visual Culture in Britain 2010); and 'Conflict & Consolation: British art and the First World War' (Art History 2013).

James appears frequently in the media. He writes opinion pieces for The Times; has appeared on numerous radio and television programmes (including Newsnight, The Review Show, and Something Understood), and writes and presents art documentaries for the BBC. In 2011 his series British Masters was nominated for a BAFTA; and in 2013 he was nominated as best presenter by the Royal Television Society for A History of Art in Three Colours.

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