Painting War

George Plante's Combat Art in World War II
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Published:May 15, 2019

Scottish artist George Plante did not enter World War II as an artist but as a volunteer radio operator in the British merchant fleet. There he spent more than two years engaged in the long-running and fierce Battle of the Atlantic, splitting his time between Britain and the United States. But while dodging U-boats and battling the elements, he also painted. Every time his tanker docked in New York he pursued contacts in the worlds of art and advertising. Even in the midst of a devastating conflict, he never lost sight of his devotion to his craft.

Very quickly, he caught the attention of agents of the British Ministry of Information (MOI) and of the War Artists Advisory Committee (WAAC). They recruited him to use his paintings of the war at sea for what was seen as a vital effort to rally Americans for the war effort in Britain.  In March 1943 Plante’s nautical days ended abruptly after his tanker was torpedoed and sank. Surviving and returning to Britain, he was reassigned to work closely with the Americans in Egypt and Italy, this time to use his art as overt propaganda, both to demonize the Nazi and Fascist enemy and to arouse opposition to them among occupied peoples under their control. Plante’s unusual wartime career spanned three continents, moving from the North Atlantic to North Africa and the Mediterranean. Both at sea and on land, Plante was far from the policy-making, strategic, and even operational levels of the war. Rather, the decisions he was called upon to make dealt with color and style and layout. Seeing the war through George Plante’s vivid and articulate letters and memoirs, and through his art, adds a granular, ground-level view that expands and enriches the historical record.


List Price: $29.95
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Product Details
  • Subject: Biography & Memoirs
  • Hardback : 312 pages
  • ISBN-10: 1682474265
  • ISBN-13: 9781682474266
  • Product Dimensions: 6 X 9 in
  • Shipping Weight: 19.52 oz
  • “George Plante fought World War II with brush, pen and ink. Kathleen Williams describes how Plante’s paintings of war in the North Atlantic and illustrations for propaganda materials targeting enemy forces in the Mediterranean contributed to Allied victory. Her deep research, keen eye for telling details, and clear writing make this a highly readable contribution to understanding a largely ignored facet of World War II.” —James C. Bradford, Professor Emeritus, Department of History, Texas A&M University
  • "George Plante had what might be described as a well timed war. He was present for some of the key convoy fights in the Battle of the Atlantic. Later, Plante always seemed to be at the right place at the right time. This brought him into contact with key figures in British intelligence, including Ian Fleming and Bruce Lockhart. Plante was able to put his talent as an artist to work in both milieus. Williams' biography of her stepfather tells the story George Plante's war with the rigorous eye of a veteran historian and the touching affection of a devoted stepdaughter." —Richard L. DiNardo, author of Germany and the Axis Powers
  • “In World War II George Plante survived years of Atlantic service, then supported psychological warfare in the Mediterranean. He depicted his adventures and tragedy, exhilaration and terror in pictures and in words. Painting War presents these previously hidden records of a courageous yet modest man enduring six years of global conflict. —Brian R. Sullivan, co-author of Il Duce’s Other Woman; previously professor of history at Yale University, the Naval War College and the Institute for National Strategic Studies
  • “Williams seamlessly weaves the story of a young commercial illustrator into the larger tapestry of WWII allied psychological warfare. Armed with sketchpad and paints, plante’s wartime odyssey carries him from the roiling decks of British merchant transports to a desk in Cairo, and finally aboard leaflet-dropping flights high over the Balkans.” —Ann Todd, author of OSS Operation Blackmail: One Woman’s War Against the Imperial Japanese Army; staff historian, National Museum of the Marine Corps

Kathleen Broome Williams, a graduate of Wellesley College and Columbia University, holds a Ph.D. from City University of New York. She is the author of Grace Hopper: Admiral of the Cyber Sea, a North American Society for Oceanic History award winner, Secret Weapon: U.S. High-Frequency Direction Finding in the Battle of the Atlantic, and Improbable Warriors: Women Scientists and the U.S. Navy in World War II, which won a History of Science Society book award. Currently, she is a professor of history at Cogswell Polytechnical College in Sunnyvale, California, and lives in Oakland, CA.

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