Royal Air Force, Past & Present. Painting by Helen Whittaker FMGP

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Detail of Chinook

Art Description

Painting: Enamel on Glass.

Happy to discuss future commissions.

This window, in a prestigious secular setting, was commissioned following a competition. My winning design presents themes that characterise both the history of the Royal Air Force and the RAF Club since their formation in 1918. Special emphasis has been drawn to the roles played by RAF personnel, their aircraft (and other vital equipment) during open global conflict, the ‘Cold War’, and the many other operations in which the service has been engaged.

The design had to respond to the variations in the degree of natural light passing through the window, which is restricted due to the close proximity of the adjacent buildings; there is a marked diminution in luminosity from the top to the bottom.

The imagery depicted in the lower levels is enlivened by the use of metallic gold, bronze, and silver leaf, with coloured enamels that rely on reflection from the interior lighting. The upper levels of the design increasingly use transparent glass making full use of the available natural light, supplemented by external lighting.

The window has been constructed so that the first part seen from the ground floor is the section containing the RAF Club crest and the Cowdray coat-of-arms. As the viewer ascends the staircase, the running figure of a pilot leads the eye through the larger figure and aircraft to the arch at the top, where a full circle can be seen. This gives reference to both radar and, in a more abstract sense the moon, giving guidance to the aircraft below. It can also be seen as an illustration of the RAF motto: Per Ardua ad Astra. Above the Lancaster the arch becomes a full circle which serves both as a reminder of the moon giving guidance to the aircraft below, as well as representing a radar sweep illuminating significant moments in RAF history.

At the base of the window, the left hand frame depicts the Club Crest whilst on the right is the coat-of-arms of the first Viscount Cowdray who purchased 128 Piccadilly, and presented it to the Royal Air Force in 1922 as the Officers Club.

Between the crests and dominating the lower window is a running fighter-pilot scrambling to his aircraft which is ‘offstage’ to the right. He represents RAF aircrew of all periods, ready at a moment’s notice to go into action in peace and in war.

The eye is then led to the image of a Harrier whose pilot is climbing the ladder into the cockpit. Since 1969 this aircraft had operated with distinction in Belize, the Falklands, the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as being a key component of RAF Germany. Behind the Harrier waves break on the shore, giving confirmation that we are an island and acting as a reminder that the RAF operates both overseas and over the sea.

Above the North Sea a Lancaster is climbing into the night sky, symbolising the burden and sacrifice borne by Bomber Command in the Second World War. On return to England, whether damaged or lost, the searchlights point the way to safety and home. Much loved by its crew, the Lancaster was critical in taking the air-offensive to Germany and was a major contribution to the winning of the war.




Royal Air Force, Past & Present.

Helen Whittaker FMGP

United Kingdom


Size: 94.5 W x 240.2 H x 0.5 in

This artwork is not for sale.