A large number of films, photographs and works of art have been acquired by the Imperial War Museum (IWM) thanks to a multi-million donation made by the Blavatnik Family Foundation, a charitable establishment that focusses on scientific research, art and culture. Run by one of the wealthiest families in the UK, the foundation usually makes charitable contributions to leading academic and research institutions, often supporting scientific and medical that is still in its early stages of research. The move to give such a large donation to the IWM marks something of a change for the foundation – a change of emphasis, at least – when compared to its other giving.
The family behind the charitable group that decided to give to the museum group, which has multiple sites in the UK, is headed by Sir Len Blavatnik who was knighted in 2017 for his philanthropic giving. Said to have a personal fortune of some £23 billion, Blavatnik made his money in the oil industry but he is also a media businessman who owns Warner Music, too. A Ukrainian by birth, Blavatnik made the early part of his business empire in Russia. Speaking of his family foundation’s large donation to the IWM, he said that he has taken a special personal interest in the history of conflict for a long time, adding that ‘the experience of war’ was something he thought was worth studying.
As a result of the foundation’s gift, a new exhibition space at the IWM will be opened. It is to be named the Blavatnik Art, Film and Photography Gallery. According to the museum, these galleries will be accessible to the public at some point towards the end of 2023. They will become the new home of the museum’s image collection, one that has been vastly augmented thanks to the foundation’s donation. The museum said that the various images it intends putting on display will tell the story of the various war and armed conflicts that have been waged over the last century and even further back. Many of the images will go on display for the first time.
The undisclosed size of the donation remains something that the Blavatnik family has decided not to put into the public domain. Nevertheless, the new artworks, film and photographic galleries that the IWM will soon build at its London headquarters in North Lambeth site mean that it must be a considerable, multi-million-pound sum. What’s more, the newly acquired images it has been able to add to its collection will be displayed alongside ones that are already in its ownership. These works of art, photographic records and film clips are said to date from the time of the outbreak of the First World War to current conflicts still ongoing in the world.
Some of the artworks that the IWM is expected to display in its new galleries include John Singer Sargent’s 1919 painting, Gassed. This famous work measures six metres in length and caused a stir when it was first unveiled because it brought the reality of twentieth-century warfare and mechanised fighting to the public’s attention for the first time. Other paintings by the likes of Paul Nash, Steve McQueen and Laura Knight will also feature. Images drawn from the IWM’s huge collection of war photographs will also go on display in the new facility. According to the IWM, it has about 11 million photos it could display at any one time, many of them by leading image-makers from their day, including Cecil Beaton and Olive Edis, among others. The collection also includes the last photo that Tim Hetherington ever took, one that was captured by the British photojournalist on the day he was killed in Libya during that country’s civil conflict in 2011.
The head of photographs at IWM, Helen Mavin, said that the collection records the individual experience of war. “Not all of them show atrocities,” she said. “Some are much more intimate, engaging and compelling.”
About the author – Manuel Charr
Manuel Charr is a journalist working in the arts and cultural sectors. With a background in marketing, Manuel is drawn to arts organizations which are prepared to try inventive ways to reach new audiences.