The Smithsonian Affiliated National Atomic Testing Museum
“Using lessons of the past to better understand the present.”

Prestigious New Exhibit


Baker Bomb Test, Bikini Atoll, Operation Crossroads, 1946, Watercolor by Arthur Beaumont.

The National Atomic Testing Museum is very proud to now have on exhibit an Arthur Beaumont watercolor painting.  Thank you to Geoffrey Beaumont for facilitating this loan from the Jonathan Art Foundation of such a prestigious Beaumont artwork. This watercolor, which once hung in the National Gallery, depicts the “Baker” atomic test during Operation Crossroads in 1946 on Bikini, Atoll. It is now appropriately displayed above the USS Nevada model through 2020. The USS Nevada of course played a prominent role in that first post-war nuclear test series.

The energy and enthusiasm of Arthur Beaumont’s son, Geoffrey Beaumont, made this exhibit a reality. Geoffrey writes about his father and his work at Bikini:

“My early memories of my father are crowded with the events surrounding the conclusion of World War II. Through the eyes of an eight-year-old boy, in 1945, I witnessed the return of the victorious U.S. Pacific Fleet to its home bases in California, and I was thrilled to accompany my father as he responded to the countless invitations by captains and admirals to visit their commands. Beaumont would invariably spend two or three hours on the dock sketching the ever-changing Navy scenes. The working conditions were frequently difficult. Apart from the occasional inclement weather, the undertaking always attracted a crowd of admirers. The assemblage watched in amazement at the speed with which he would complete a fine watercolor sketch of a great Iowa class battleship or an equally impressive Essex class aircraft carrier, many of which had just recently survived the constant risk of a Kamikaze attack. The turmoil of the noisy shipyard activities made it difficult to sustain concentration, yet the result was an exciting stream of “plein air” works of art. Beaumont preferred to work on location, over many years executing thousands of sketches on his naval tours and field trips.”

“In July of 1946, Arthur Beaumont was designated as the Navy’s Official Task Force Artist for “Operation Crossroads,” the atomic bomb tests at Bikini Atoll in the South Pacific. From the bridge of the flagship, the USS Fall River, Beau witnessed and recorded the amazing spectacle of the two blasts from the Able and Baker bombs. The day after the Able bomb test, he set his easel up on a large buoy while working on a plein air watercolor sketch of the old battleship USS Arkansas. So close was he to the damaged and burning ship, that he had unwittingly exposed himself to a high level of radioactivity. When he returned to the flagship that evening he wrote, “I was ordered to dispose of all my garments and have a thorough scrubbing down!” to counter the effects of the overdose of radiation. The scrubbing down was painful and successful, and luckily Beaumont did not suffer from radiation sickness, although the Navy doctors continued to closely monitor his health for two years. While on location at Bikini, Beaumont made over 180 on-the-spot sketches, both in pencil and watercolor, plus 16 refined studio paintings that he created in his studio aboard the flagship. Two of the paintings depicted the now famous atomic mushroom clouds, while another captured the particularly dramatic sinking at night of the famed aircraft carrier, USS Saratoga. In the months that followed, the Bikini paintings would be exhibited in Beaumont’s second one man show at the Andrew Mellon West Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Subsequently the show traveled to the Museum of the Science and Industry in Chicago. The public interest in these paintings was extreme and attendance exceeded 700,000, by far the largest audience of Beaumont’s career.”

Arthur Beaumont is the most noted of all the official artists for the United States Navy. He served an association with the Navy that spanned almost five decades. His official biography conveys a moving image of a great American artist:

“His classical training as an artist and his fascination for the sea and its vessels gave him the unique opportunity to record history and create fine works of art simultaneously.

Born in England, Beaumont emigrated to the U.S. in 1909 where he studied at the San Francisco Institute of Art. He continued his education at the L.A. School of Art and Design and the Chouinard School where he won a scholarship to continue his art studies at the University of London. In Europe he also studied at some of the finest art schools in France, Belgium and Holland.

In 1932 a portrait of Vice Admiral William Leahy so impressed the admiral, he asked Beaumont to create paintings of the U.S. Fleet, and offered him a commission. For the next forty years as the Navy’s official war artist, Beaumont painted America’s great battle fleets from WW II through Vietnam. During the last years of his life Beaumont painted from his home in Laguna Hills, California.”

Arthur Beaumont’s works may be seen in the permanent collections of:

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, Boston, Mass.
United States Department of the Navy, Washington, D.C.
National Museum of the United States Navy, Washington D.C.
United States Naval Academy Museum, Annapolis, Maryland
The Pentagon, Washington D.C.
The Explorer’s Club, New York, NY
The Irvine Museum, Irvine, CA
The Los Angeles Maritime Museum
University of California at Los Angeles
University of Southern California, Los Angeles
Among Several Other Important Public and Private Collection

For more information on the great works of Arthur Beaumont visit:

Michael Hall
Executive Director
Smithsonian Affiliated
National Atomic Testing Museum
755 E Flamingo Rd
Las Vegas, NV 89119
Work Phone: 702-794-5140
Cell Phone: 305-505-5405

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