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SS Peter and Paul, Little Saling, Essex; Recording Britain Collection

  • Object:

    Watercolour

  • Place of origin:

    Little Saling (painted)

  • Date:

    ca. 1942 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Rowntree, born 1915 - died 1997 (painter (artist))

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Watercolour with white heightening on paper

  • Credit Line:

    Given by the Pilgrim Trust

  • Museum number:

    E.1411-1949

  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level F, case RB, shelf 38

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With one exception, all of Kenneth Rowntree's Essex pictures for 'Recording Britain' were of churches and chapels, and the church of SS. Peter and Paul in Little Saling was particular favourite. This is the only exterior view he painted of the church. The unusually narrow format echoes the form and proportions of the fourteenth-century church with its round tower. He made no attempt to disguise the signs of neglect apparent in and around the church: large flakes of plaster have fallen from the tower, and the churchyard is overgrown.

At the time Rowntree painted this watercolour, he was living in the nearby village of Great Bardfield, which numbered among its residents the artists Michael Rothenstein, Eric Ravilious, and Edward Bawden. Ravilious and Bawden were largely responsible for the revival of watercolour painting in the 1930s, developing a fresh, distinctive style with an emphasis on pattern and decoration. On the evidence of his 'Recording Britain' pictures, Rowntree was very much a part of this tendency.

Physical description

A watercolour view of the exterior of the church of SS Peter and Paul, Little Saling, Essex, from the east. The fourteenth-century church rises out of an overgrown churchyard under a sunny sky. The round tower dominates the foreground, but it shows signs of neglect, with large patches of plaster flaked off. Signed.

Place of Origin

Little Saling (painted)

Date

ca. 1942 (painted)

Artist/maker

Rowntree, born 1915 - died 1997 (painter (artist))

Materials and Techniques

Watercolour with white heightening on paper

Marks and inscriptions

'Kenneth Rowntree'

Dimensions

Height: 19 in, Width: 12.375 in

Object history note

Kenneth Rowntree painted the Church of SS Peter and Paul at Little Saling, Essex three times, but this is the only exterior view. The church, which dates from the fourteenth century, was then showing signs of decay, both inside and out, as can be seen here in the flaking plaster on the tower and the overgrown churchyard. Rowntree used an unusually narrow upright format for the SS Peter and Paul watercolours to echo the form and proportions of the church.

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 significance: Ravilious and Bawden were largely responsible for reviving the art of watercolour painting in the 1930s, bringing to it a distinctive style with a strong emphasis on pattern and texture. On the evidence of his Recording Britain pictures, Rowntree was very much a part of this tendency.

Historical context note

At the time he painted this watercolour, Rowntree was living in the nearby village of Great Bardfield, which also numbered Eric Ravilious, Michael Rothenstein, and Edward Bawden among its residents. Although their individual styles differed dramatically, all were working on topographical subjects, primarily in watercolour.

Descriptive line

Watercolour of the exterior of SS. Peter and Paul, Little Saling, by Kenneth Rowntree; from the Recording Britain Collection (Essex); England, ca. 1940.

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

Mellor, David, Gill Saunders and Patrick Wright. Recording Britain: A Pictorial Domesday of Pre-War Britain. Newton Abbot and London: David & Charles in association with the Victoria and Albert Museum, 1990. pp.70-71, illus.
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.

[…]
ROWNTREE, Kenneth, A.R.W.S.

[…]

Exterior, Church of SS.Peter and Paul, Little Saling.
Signed in pencil Kenneth Rowntree.
Water-colour, heightened with Chinese white (19 x 12 3/8)
(Reproduced Vol.II)

E.1411-1949'
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.'

Exhibition History

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

Associated names

Ravilious, Eric; Edward Bawden

Materials

Paper; Watercolour; Zinc white

Techniques

Watercolour drawing

Subjects depicted

Topographical views; Churches; Essex; Little Saling

Categories

Paintings; Recording Britain Collection

Collection code

PDP

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Qr_O118625
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