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Watercolour - The Phoenix Eating House, Braintree; Recording Britain Collection
  • The Phoenix Eating House, Braintree
    Bayes, born 1869 - died 1956
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The Phoenix Eating House, Braintree; Recording Britain Collection

  • Object:

    Watercolour

  • Place of origin:

    Braintree, United Kingdom (painted)

  • Date:

    ca. 1940 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Bayes, born 1869 - died 1956 (painter (artist))

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Pen and ink and watercolour on paper

  • Credit Line:

    Given by the Pilgrim Trust

  • Museum number:

    E.1362-1949

  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level F, case RB, shelf 10, box E

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Although Bayes's watercolour may not make it seem particularly inviting, the Phoenix Eating House was a venerable institution in the market town of Braintree, serving market customers and traders for a modest sum (as can be seen on the price list above the table in the foreground). It finally closed its doors in the 1970s.

Physical description

A watercolour drawing of the Phoenix Eating House, with market day customers waiting to be served. An elderly man sits at a table, eating hungrily.

Place of Origin

Braintree, United Kingdom (painted)

Date

ca. 1940 (painted)

Artist/maker

Bayes, born 1869 - died 1956 (painter (artist))

Materials and Techniques

Pen and ink and watercolour on paper

Marks and inscriptions

'--W B--'

Dimensions

Height: 11.125 in, Width: 10.25 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

Braintree had grown up around the wool trade, but from 1809 its economy was based around the Courtauld silk factory. The Phoenix Eating House was a local institution from the early years of the twentieth century, finally closing in the 1970s.

Descriptive line

Watercolour by Walter Bayes, 'The Phoenix Eating House, Braintree', from the Recording Britain Collection (Essex); England, ca.1940.

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

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.

[…]
BAYES, Walter, R.W.S.

[…]

The Phoenix Eating House, Braintree.
Signed in pencil - W B -
Pen and ink and water-colour (11 1/8 x 10 1/4)

E.1362-1949'
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.'

Materials

Paper; Pen and ink and watercolour

Techniques

Watercolour drawing

Subjects depicted

Essex; Restaurants; Braintree

Categories

Entertainment & Leisure; Paintings; Recording Britain Collection

Collection code

PDP

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Qr_O119013
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