Artist Louis Keene: Barrage Balloons and Searchlights, circa 1941

Artist Louis Keene (1888-1972): Barrage Balloons and Searchlights, circa 1941

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Louis Keene (1888-1972):
Barrage Balloons and Searchlights, circa 1941
Framed (ref: 7256)

Watercolour, india ink, pencil, and chalk 
13 3/4  x 15 1/2 in. (35 x 39.3 cm)

See all works by Louis Keene chalk ink pencil watercolour war World War II Paintings by British Artists

Provenance: The Artists daughter, Canada.

Exhibited: WW2 - War Pictures by British Artists, Morley College London, 28 October -23 November 2016, cat 34.

Literature: WW2 - War Pictures by British Artists, Edited by Sacha Llewellyn & Paul Liss, July 2016, cat 34, page 71.

As Commanding Officer of the Lorne Scots during WW2 Keene witnessed the bombing of Liverpool and London.  According to an article in the  Evening Standard (May 29, 1942), his paintings, including  a vivid incendiary bomb picture were included in the National Gallery show of May 1942.  His obituary (Oakville, 8 May 1972) reported, While in England Col. Keene did some paintings of the air raids and these were later purchased by the British government. Some of his wartime paintings were also sold to the Canadian government.

Favouring nighttime views,  (illuminated by searchlights, fires and bombs) his pictures are often characterised by a surreal feeling, heightened by  the use of shallow perspectives and intense colours.

Canadian War Museum

"The Awakening"; Liverpool. May, 1941.
Canadian War Museum

Despite the presence of barrage balloons and searchlights German bombers 
often successfully penetrated the Barrage Balloons and Searchlights.  Once 
a fire got started, a breeze might blow burning fragments onto other 
undamaged properties and start new fires there, indicated by 
the thin red streaks of burning debris carried towards the 
right of the picture.

Bringing down high-flying German aircraft at night was no easy matter for the 
ground forces and vast amounts of ammunition were expended in the effort.  
The blazing build was clearly positioned near to a public park or other open 
space from which balloons were deployed, many of them operated by 
Women's Auxiliary Air Force personnel.  Light anti-aircraft defences are also 
in action as indicated by the exploding shells bursting in yellow at high 

For dramatic effect 
Keene's impression combines  the elements of night-time 
defence more closely than in reality they would have appeared.

We are grateful to Andrew Cormack for assistance and TweedsmuirMilitaryCamp.Co.Uk.