Frank Owen Salisbury at Tate Britain

The Passing of the Unknown Warrior, 11 November 1920, a painting by Frank Owen Salisbury is currently part of the exhibition, Aftermath: Art in the Wake of World War One, at Tate Britain until 23 September.

The Passing of the Unknown Warrior, 11 November 1920 by Frank Owen Salisbury

© Estate of Frank Owen Salisbury. All rights reserved, DACS 2016

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The Passing of the Unknown Warrior, 11 November 1920, a striking horizontally shaped composition by Frank Salisbury, captures the moment that the casket containing the body of an unknown soldier was placed onto a gun carriage of the Royal Horse Artillery and drawn by six horses through a huge and silent crowd towards Westminster Abbey. On Armistice Day 1920, the cortège was followed by King George V, members of the Royal Family and government ministers including Winston Churchill, the Secretary of State for War. Other recognisable figures in the painting include Edward VIII (later the Duke of Windsor) and Lord Mountbatten. On arrival at the Abbey, the casket was interred and covered with a silk pall.

The concept of the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior was first proposed in 1916 by the Reverend David Railton, during the time that he served as an army chaplain on the Western Front. In acknowledgment of the millions who had died in the conflict, Railton proposed that the body of an unidentified British soldier who had died on the battlefields in France should be buried with full ceremony in Westminster Abbey ‘amongst the kings’. Writing from the Front to Field Marshal Lord Haig in 1916, Railton’s idea initially received no response. Four years later, after he had returned to England and while working as a vicar in Margate, Railton pursued his idea by contacting leading figures in the Church and government. His efforts eventually succeeded when he caught the attention of Prime Minister David Lloyd George whose enthusiastic support gained the agreement of George V. Painted with near-photographic realism, the formality of Salisbury’s work complements the sombre tone of the subject.

Born in Harpenden, Hertfordshire, in 1874, Frank Owen Salisbury specialised in portraits and large canvases of historical and ceremonial events, becoming known as ‘Britain’s Painter Laureate’. His art was unfailingly conservative and he was highly critical of modern art and painters, in particular Picasso and Mondrian. At 15, Salisbury was apprenticed at his brother’s stained glass works in St Albans, after which he studied at Heatherley’s School of Fine Art, London. He later studied at the Royal Academy Schools (1892–97).

The formality of Salisbury’s painting style was undoubtedly influenced by that of many masterpieces of painting that he saw at first hand while travelling in Europe. Most common subjects of his work were portraits of royalty, politicians and senior figures, notably King George VI and Winston Churchill. Salisbury was a member of several art societies during his lifetime; and in 1938, he was appointed a Commander in the Royal Victorian Order (CVO). He died at home in Hampstead, London in 1962.

Further Information

Aftermath: Art in the Wake of World War One
Tate Britain
London SW1P 4RG

Telephone: +44(0)20 7887 8888