The War Years: 1939 - 1945

The war years mark Beaumont's most prolific period. He painted ships and battle scenes as an Artist Correspondent; he raised funds for war relief; he created posters and led fund-raising efforts for the construction of the heavy cruiser USS Los Angeles. His work for the Navy department and commissions for ship portraits for private art collectors continued as always.

In those pre-television days, and prior to the entry of America into the war, Beau's skills were sought by the Hearst syndicate of newspapers. They commissioned him as a journalist-illustrator to depict European battle scenes, both at sea and on land, in the form of black and white ink drawings to accompany the news articles from the battle front.

These battle illustrations showed the American readers what the fighting looked like as conceived by the artist. Tearing news of Naval battles off the teletype, Beau, with his copy of "Jane's Fighting Ships" before him, would paint the encounter as he imagined it. The painting, suitably captioned, then appeared under a headline in the newspaper. One example is The Raiders - Deutschland and Emden, which showed the sinking of a British freighter by Nazi ships.

America's isolationist stance disappointed Beau. During his studies in London at the Slade School of Art in 1925, he had seen first hand the catastrophic toll the First World War had taken. He was devastated to learn that nearly all of his boyhood friends had been killed in the conflagration. Therefore, Beau took a personal interest in helping the Allied war effort. Teaming up with the British film actor Montagu Love, they organized the Artists and Sculptors Benefit for British war relief. An auction of works by fifty prominent Southern California artists was held in Los Angeles, the proceeds of which were donated to the war relief fund.

In the year prior to American participation in the European war, the National Geographic Magazine commissioned Beaumont to do a series of eight large watercolor paintings to be published in the September, 1941 magazine issue. The series, "Ships That Guard Our Ocean Ramparts," was designed to garner public support for the war effort. After their debut in the periodical, the paintings were widely reproduced in newspapers throughout the country, and the originals were sent on a national tour - their significance heightened, no doubt, by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor just three months later. Many of the ships Beau had painted for the Navy during the previous ten years were destroyed or badly damaged in the attack, including the USS Arizona, the USS Oklahoma, the USS Utah, the USS Pennsylvania, the USS California and the USS Maryland.

In December of 1941, Beau was on the East Coast on a second assignment for National Geographic Magazine (sponsored by the War Department) to portray Army maneuvers. The Army was on full war alert and the troops were simulating actual war conditions. Beau had the opportunity to observe the war games in a company of generals, Patton and Eisenhower. Subsequently, he was offered the position as Official Artist of the United States Army. Beau seriously considered the offer, but in the end, he chose to remain with the Navy.

By 1942, with America now engaged in the war in Europe and the Pacific, the Navy announced plans to build the light cruiser USS Los Angeles. Beau volunteered as one of the organizers of the fundraising efforts. He made lithographs of the ship based on blueprints delivered to him from Navy Department.

Billboard showing artist's rendition of the USS Los Angeles

The Los Angeles Evening Herald and Express proclaimed, "Every purchaser of an extra war bond during the $40,000,000 July campaign will receive an original lithograph print of the new fighting ship drawn by America's foremost military artist, Arthur Beaumont!" Beau's images of the ship appeared in countless advertisements, on posters and billboards displayed throughout Los Angeles County. The fundraising drive was enormously successful and raised a total of $80,371,372. The Navy department was so pleased by the success of the Bond drive that it enlarged the ship from a light cruiser to the heavy cruiser, and the excess funds were used to build for the Destroyer Escorts, as well.

The artist signing lithographs of the cruiser

USS Los Angeles, 1943.

Beau completed 350 sketches and 25 paintings in the Antarctica, but weather problems in the land of the penguins prevented him from reaching the geographic South Pole. Inspired nonetheless by the intense beauty of the place, Beau undertook another Antarctic voyage in the winter of 1960 on the expedition entitled Deep Freeze 61.

As discussions ensued concerning the second trip, the Commodore said, "Beau, how about making a painting at the South Pole?" "Yes sir," he replied, "on three conditions. If I am able physically do so; if weather conditions of blizzards, white-outs, wind and plain exhaustion do not defeat me; and IF I can get to the Pole!"

Once again mesmerized by the scenery he wrote: "Antarctica is fantastic, indescribable, unpredictable, inexplorable and ruthless, yet hauntingly beautiful....It is alone, apart, defiant and awesome. A great white desert."

With persistence, Beau made it to the South Pole. Planning to stay for six hours, the weather changed for the worse, and he was marooned for seven days! He described this experience as "the most rugged in a lifetime of adventure and excitement." The Pole Station is twenty feet underground, which Beau felt was like living in a freezer. Despite the conditions, Beau executed three paintings looking out the scientists' observation dome. He also brought back many 30-second sketches which were made outdoors in the brilliant midnight sun. Treacherous conditions on the ice made painting outdoors virtually impossible, even with two pairs of gloves and a hand warmer. But he succeeded in painting the South Pole at the geographic South Pole by mixing torpedo alcohol with his paint so it would not freeze. "Mission Accomplished!" It is extraordinary to think that Beau traveled to the Antarctic at seventy years of age, producing paintings of historical relevance and dramatic beauty.

And subsequently, in 1947, he was commissioned to paint a large oil painting of the USS Los Angeles for permanent display at the Los Angeles City Hall. (Some 25 years later, to everyone's great surprise, the painting was cut out of its frame and stolen from the rotunda of the City Hall. The painting has not been recovered to this day.)

At war's end in 1945, Beau was awarded a certificate of appreciation by the Governer of California, for his voluntary work with the California State Navel Guard, along with numerous other commendations for his journalistic and artistic contributions to the war effort.