The bloody battle between the elected Spanish republic and a rebel group of Nationalists was one of the most important conflicts of the 20th century. The Nationalist-commanded bombing of civilians in Guernica – immortalised in Picasso's iconic work – was one of the first campaigns by Nazi Germany's Luftwaffe and reactions to it revealed the divisions between right- and left-wing groups in Europe. These ideological clashes were responsible for the outbreak of the Second World War just a few years later.
Coinciding with the 75th anniversary of the battle's end, the exhibition draws on works by Henry Moore, Edward Burra, Wyndham Lewis and Roland Penrose in order to explore how visual artists in Britain responded to events in the Mediterranean. United in the fight against facism, artists from across disciplines and practices became engaged with the conflict; either fighting in the war themselves, providing work for fundraising campaigns or creating independent pieces that made fiercely critical statements.
On display are 80 such examples from this period, including painting, printmaking, design, textiles, sculpture, photography and film. Many have not been shown in public for several decades.
The exhibition also sheds light on the role female artists played in the conflict. Paintings of refugees Ursula McCannell – now 91 – produced when she was just 13 are displayed alongside her source photographs. Meanwhile a series of drawings by artist Felicia Browne, who was the first British volunteer to die in the war, capture Republican soldiers and Spanish peasants affected by the conflict.