Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson painted Among the London Searchlights from a hot air balloon tethered above London Bridge. The blank canvas was sold at the Red Cross sale at Chistie's in 1916 to Lady Parsons, and the work was painted for her in 1918. It is one of a group of pictures he painted during the First World War of searchlights along the Thames, a subject which appealed to his celebration of the modern.
In August 1914 Nevinson became an ambulance driver for the Red Cross in France, and returned to London in 1915 on leave. In London he joined the Royal Army Medical Corps at the Third London General Hospital in Wandsworth and in 1917 became an Official War Artist, for which he experienced the war both from the front line in France and from home. Among the London Searchlights emerged from a successful period for Nevinson, during which he was becoming more and more celebrated. Although his pre-war fascination with Futurism continued, it was not necessary for Nevinson to impose his modernist vision on his subject matter in the same way. As David Cohen writes, 'In war, he found the subjects themselves to be, as it were, 'modern' already; straightforward depiction was better at getting this across' (see exhibition catalogue, C.R.W. Nevinson The Twentieth Century, London, Imperial War Museum, 1999, p. 45). His treatment of the subject in the present lot can be compared to that of The First Searchlights at Charing Cross, 1914 (fig. 1). In the earlier work Nevinson depicts the beams of light cast by the searchlights in a Futurist manner, in which they create prismatic patterns in the sky. In comparison, Among the London Searchlights is a more naturalistic depiction of this phenomenom, although it is still concerned with the geometric, diagonal patterns created by these lights.
The urban landscape in the present work stretches ahead into the distance, exaggerated by the river snaking through it. This infinite and impressive view of the city, which the searchlights have lit up and picked out, is the ultimate motif for Nevinson, both in consideration of his pre-war Futurist ideals and his intentions as a war artist.