David Shepherd C.B.E. (British, 1931-2017) At Readiness - Summer of '40

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Lot 155AR
David Shepherd C.B.E.
(British, 1931-2017)
At Readiness - Summer of '40

Sold for £ 37,562 (US$ 51,145) inc. premium
David Shepherd C.B.E. (British, 1931-2017)
At Readiness - Summer of '40
signed and dated '-David Shepherd- '80' (lower right)
oil on canvas
61 x 111.5cm (24 x 43 7/8in).


  • Provenance
    The Artist, from whom acquired directly by the family of the present owner in the 1980s, and thence by descent
    Private Collection, U.K.

    The present lot is the original painting from which a limited edition print was produced (At Readiness - Summer of '40, published 1981).

    'I have tried to evoke the feeling of that high summer of the Battle of Britain: "The immortal few" - young men relaxing in their armchairs in the sunshine. Will there be yet another scramble to their war weary Hurricanes waiting faithfully in the background? Some of the young men are too tired to even read the latest copy of Picture Post. A dog waits patiently by the car for his master who may not return.

    I hope every detail is here and memories will come flooding back to those who took part in the events of those momentous months.' (David Shepherd)

    The present work depicts RAF pilots at rest during the momentous Battle of Britain which began in the summer of 1940. It was a battle fought in the air, with the RAF defending Britain against a major offensive from the German Luftwaffe. Following Germany's defeat of France in June 1940, Hitler hoped to invade Britain - codenamed Operation 'Sealion' - and the first step for the Germans was to try to gain control of the skies over southern England through a sustained air assault. It was ultimately a test of strength between the two nations' air forces. Although Germany had been stripped of its air force after the First World War, the Nazi government re-established the Luftwaffe and by 1940 it was the largest and most impressive air force in the world. Britain countered this challenge with a superior defence and communications network, and some of the finest fighter aircraft in the world, the Hawker Hurricane and the Supermarine Spitfire. In the present work, three Hurricane planes are depicted, their pilots resting in the foreground between flights. The Hurricane was the principle fighter in the Battle of Britain, with 32 Squadrons of Hurricanes compared to only 19 of Spitfires, with the Hurricanes shooting down more aircraft than all other air and ground defences (including anti-aircraft guns) combined.

    The Battle of Britain took place between July and October 1940. The Luftwaffe launched their main offensive on 13 August, maintaining a heavy bombing campaign focussed on airfields and communication centres. Fighter Command offered stiff resistance despite suffering heavy losses, however the Germans made a crucial mistake in assuming that the RAF had been damaged beyond repair. From 7 September the Luftwaffe moved their attacks away from RAF targets and on to London instead, and while the raids had devastating effects on the capital city, they gave Britain's defence network time to recover, enabling them to repel a major assault on 15 September. Fighting continued for the next few weeks, but the RAF had shown they would not be surrendering control of the skies.

    For the present painting, Shepherd took inspiration from Churchill's famous speech, delivered in the House of Commons on 20 August 1940, at the height of the war being waged in the skies. Churchill famously stated in this speech that: 'Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.' He addressed the nation, praising the brave airmen who were protecting the country: 'The gratitude of every home in our Island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the World War by their prowess and by their devotion.' With the 80th anniversary of the beginning of the Second World War earlier this year, this painting is a pertinent reminder of this momentous period in British history.
David Shepherd C.B.E. (British, 1931-2017) At Readiness - Summer of '40
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