Dazzled! How a British artist transformed the seas of WWI

Dazzled! How a British artist transformed the seas of WWI

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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