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Post Mill, Finchingfield, Essex; Recording Britain Collection

  • Object:

    Watercolour

  • Place of origin:

    Finchingfield, United Kingdom (painted)

  • Date:

    1943 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Michael Rothenstein, born 1908 - died 1993 (painter)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Watercolour on paper

  • Credit Line:

    Given by the Pilgrim Trust

  • Museum number:

    E.1405-1949

  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level F, case RB, shelf 41

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Finchingfield, one of the most picturesque villages in East Anglia, is one of relatively few to retain one of its old mills. One of four that originally stood there in the late eighteenth century, this post mill (whose structure could be turned on a central post so that the sails always faced into the wind) had become redundant and fallen into decay by the time Michael Rothenstein painted it in 1943. Perhaps because of the attention Rothenstein drew to this state of affairs, the mill was ultimately preserved: the County Council took over its preservation in 1956, and the mill is still open to the public today.

Rothenstein lived nearby at Great Bardfield and painted several of the local mills for Recording Britain. Here, he chose to focus on the weed-choked yard behind the mill, an indicator of its long neglect. The thatched roof beyond belongs to what was once the miller's cottage.

Physical description

A watercolour depicting an old wooden post mill, perched on a brick-walled roundhouse, surrounded by low-lying garden sheds in a weed-choked yard. The sky is grey and filled with swiftly-moving clouds. Signed and dated.

Place of Origin

Finchingfield, United Kingdom (painted)

Date

1943 (painted)

Artist/maker

Michael Rothenstein, born 1908 - died 1993 (painter)

Materials and Techniques

Watercolour on paper

Marks and inscriptions

'Michael Rothenstein 15 May 1943'

Dimensions

Height: 19 in, Width: 24 in

Object history note

This work is from the 'Recording Britain' collection of topographical watercolours and drawings made in the early 1940s during the Second World War. In 1940 the Committee for the Employment of Artists in Wartime, part of the Ministry of Labour and National Service, launched a scheme to employ artists to record the home front in Britain, funded by a grant from the Pilgrim Trust. It ran until 1943 and some of the country's finest watercolour painters, such as John Piper, Sir William Russell Flint and Rowland Hilder, were commissioned to make paintings and drawings of buildings, scenes, and places which captured a sense of national identity. Their subjects were typically English: market towns and villages, churches and country estates, rural landscapes and industries, rivers and wild places, monuments and ruins. Northern Ireland was not covered, only four Welsh counties were included, and a separate scheme ran in Scotland.

The scheme was known as 'Recording the changing face of Britain' and was established by Sir Kenneth Clark, then the director of the National Gallery. It ran alongside the official War Artists' Scheme, which he also initiated. Clark was inspired by several motives: at the outbreak of war in 1939, there was a concern to document the British landscape in the face of the imminent threat of bomb damage, invasion, and loss caused by the operations of war. This was allied to an anxiety about changes to the landscape already underway, such as the rapid growth of cities, road building and housing developments, the decline of rural ways of life and industries, and new agricultural practices, which together contributed to the idea of a 'vanishing Britain'. Clark also wanted to help artists, and the traditional forms of British art such as watercolour painting, to survive during the uncertain conditions of wartime. He in turn was inspired by America's Federal Arts Project which was designed to give artists employment during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Over 1500 works were eventually produced by 97 artists, of whom 63 were specially commissioned. At the time the collection had a propaganda role, intended to boost national morale by celebrating Britain's landscapes and heritage. Three exhibitions were held during the war at the National Gallery, and pictures from the collection were sent on touring exhibitions and to galleries all around the country. After the war, the whole collection was given to the V&A by the Pilgrim Trust in 1949, and it was documented in a four volume catalogue published between 1946 and 1949. For many years the majority of the collection was on loan to councils and record offices in each county, until recalled by the V&A around 1990. The pictures now form a memorial to the war effort, and a unique record of their time.

Historical context note

The post mill depicted in this watercolour was originally one of four built in Finchingfield around 1760. By the time Rothenstein painted it, it stood alone. Mills had by this time become redundant, and many were allowed to fall into decay and neglect. Finchingfield Mill was purchased by Sir John Ruggles of nearby Spains Hall and presented to the villagers who repaired it by public subscription. It was derelict again by 1957, when it was taken over by the County Council. It is still open to the public.

Descriptive line

A watercolour of the post mill at Finchingfield by Michael Rothenstein; from the Recording Britain Collection (Essex); England, 1943.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

D. Mellor, G. Saunders, P. Wright. Recording Britain: A Pictorial Domesday of Pre-War Britain. 1990. p. 68.
'One of England's more picturesque villages. Finchingfield combines all of the essential elements of the "typical" village - the church, a green with a pond, an eclectic but harmonious mix of cottages and a windmill. This is, to be precise, a post mill. The entire structure, supported by a central post, could be turned so that the sails always faced into the wind.

This mill, with its brick-walled roundhouse below, was built around 1760 on an artificial mound twenty feet above the road. Originally one of four, it now stands alone. Its history is similar to that of many other mills across Britain: redundant by 1904 it survived, though increasingly dilapidated, until 1947, when it was purchased by Sir John Ruggles of nearby Spains Hall and presented to the villagers who repaired it by public subscription. It was derelict again by 1957, and the responsibility for its preservation was taken on by the County Council. It is still open to the public.
Rothenstein, who lives only a few miles away at Great Bardfield, painted several of the local mills. Here he chose to show the weed-choked yard behind the mill, a symptom of its long neglect. The thatched roof beyond belongs to what was once the miller's cottage.'
Catalogue of Drawings in the 'Recording Britain' Collection given by the Pilgrim Trust to the Victoria and Albert Museum published by the Victoria and Albert Museum, Prints, Drawings and Paintings Department, 1951.
The full text of the entry is as follows:
'ESSEX.

[…]
ROBINS, William P., R.E.

[…]

Post Mill, Finchingfield.
Signed and dated Michael Rothenstein 15 May 1943.
Water-colour (19 x 24)
(Reproduced Vol.II)

E.1405-1949'
Palmer, Arnold, ed. Recording Britain. London: Oxford University Press, 1946-49. Vol 2: Essex, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire, Northhamptonshire and Rutlandshire, Norfolk, Yorkshire. p.1.
'In 1940 Essex seemed in more urgent need of recording than any other county except Kent. Apart from being an easy target for air-raiders and a convenient dumping-ground for bombs from machines which had failed to reach objectives farther inland, it was also a likely area for invasion, and consequently sure of priority in the attentions of the War Office. Records of Essex, then, were wanted, and quickly, before the county was occupied by the British, or the German, Army.'
Palmer, Arnold, ed. Recording Britain. London: Oxford University Press, 1946-49. Vol 2: Essex, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire, Northhamptonshire and Rutlandshire, Norfolk, Yorkshire. pp.40-41, illus.

Exhibition History

Recording Britain: A Pictorial Domesday of Pre-War Britain (Victoria & Albert Museum 01/08/1990-18/11/1990)

Materials

Paper; Watercolour

Techniques

Watercolour drawing

Subjects depicted

Topographical views; Essex; Mills; Finchingfield

Categories

Paintings; Recording Britain Collection

Collection code

PDP

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Qr_O118134
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