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Watercolour - The Bellringer's Chamber, SS. Peter and Paul Church, Clare; Recording Britain
  • The Bellringer's Chamber, SS. Peter and Paul Church, Clare
    Rowntree, born 1915 - died 1997
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The Bellringer's Chamber, SS. Peter and Paul Church, Clare; Recording Britain

  • Object:

    Watercolour

  • Place of origin:

    Clare (painted)

  • Date:

    ca. 1940-ca. 1942 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

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

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Watercolour and bodycolour drawing on paper

  • Credit Line:

    Given by the Pilgrim Trust

  • Museum number:

    E.2159-1949

  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level F, case RB, shelf 27, box A

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Kenneth Rowntree's crisp, colourful style, bordering on Magical Realism, is very much in evidence in this watercolour of the bellringer's chamber in Clare church. The church dates from the Norman Conquest and the beauty of its fifteenth-century nave and chancel are well known, but here Rowntree concentrates on the text of a notice board detailing early church donors. Rowntree often emphasised the written word in his pictures of churches and chapels; perhaps, as a Quaker unable to bear witness or testify, these texts held special import for him as 'found objects'. Indeed, in later years he acknowledged that 'words are what my work is really all about'.

Physical description

A watercolour drawing of the interior of the bellringer's chamber in SS. Peter and Paul Church, Clare. A large black notice board detailing early donations to the church dominates the picture; light comes from a small high leaded window at left. A red cloth with a fleur-de-lys pattern is draped over a railing, lower left.

Place of Origin

Clare (painted)

Date

ca. 1940-ca. 1942 (painted)

Artist/maker

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

Materials and Techniques

Watercolour and bodycolour drawing on paper

Marks and inscriptions

'Kenneth Rowntree'

Dimensions

Height: 12.375 in, Width: 19 in, Height: 349 mm, Width: 512 mm

Object history note

As is often the case in Rowntree's watercolours of church interiors for the Recording Britain scheme, the written word dominates the scene. This has been attributed to his Quaker beliefs and his attempt to translate them into pictorial terms. According to David Mellor, Rowntree, unable to testify or bear witness as a Quaker, may have thought of these words as objets trouves and wrote them out again. Indeed, Rowntree himself later said, 'I have come to realise that words are what my work is all about' (1990).
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

Clare church was originally built after the Norman Conquest; most of the present building (the chancel, the nave, and the belfry) dates from the later fifteenth century.

Descriptive line

Watercolour, 'The Bellringer's Chamber, SS. Peter and Paul Church, Clare', by Kenneth Rowntree

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:
'SUFFOLK

[...]
ROWNTREE, Kenneth, A.R.W.S.
The Bellringer’s Chamber, SS.Peter and Paul Church, Clare.
Signed in pencil Kenneth Rowntree.
Water-and body-colour (12 3/8 x 19)

E.2159-1949'
Palmer, Arnold, ed. Recording Britain. London: Oxford University Press, 1946-49. Vol 2: Essex, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire, Northhamptonshire and Rutlandshire, Norfolk, Yorkshire. Introduction to Suffolk, p.49.
'Of the first group of artists to be commissioned, eighteen in number, sixteen went to work between Weymouth and Ipswich. Such was the arrangement, eloquent of the state of affairs in the month of April 1940. Before the month was out a batch of four drawings from Suffolk started the collection; on the other hand, three of the artists, unable to begin work immediately, were too late and found their objectives, when they reached them, guarded by sentries and hung about with minatory notices. After two years, when the pattern of military control had become clearer and was about to be extended, further recording was done in East Suffolk; but at the time it was thought wiser and kinder to remove the three artists from an area in which, hanging about with their sketch-books and paint-boxes, they were hourly the objects of darker suspicions, and send them to fulfil their commission in Devon and Glamorgan.
The lot of the artists was not then an altogether enviable one, especially on the east coast. Tact, perseverance, and courage were needed as well as a permit from one Ministry and a guarantee of bona fides from another. One artist, sick of sour looks and grudging concessions, marshalled all the influence that he, his friends, and his friends' friends could bring to bear and obtained a coloured pass of immense power and rarity. In fact, it seems to have been unique, and at the end of a fortnight he was thankful to surrender it and to recover his old and ordinary permit. Never having seen the like of his pink card, the police and military were convinced it was a clumsy forgery from Berlin.
Yet police and military came in time to be regarded by the artists less as a barrier to progress than as a defence against the common enemy, the General Public. The painters were so often reported, and the men in blue and the men in khaki so often roused, that an almost affectionate alliance grew up between them, co-victims of busybodies who, if possibly well-meaning, were fond of results during the lunch hour.'
Chris Stephens and John-Paul Stonnard ; with David Alan Mellor, Peter T.J. Rumley and John Wyver., Kenneth Clark : looking for civilisation London: Tate Gallery, 2014. ISBN: 9781849762601

Materials

Paper; Watercolour; Bodycolour

Techniques

Watercolour drawing

Subjects depicted

Churches; Suffolk; Interiors (religious); Inscriptions; Clare

Categories

Drawings; Recording Britain Collection

Collection code

PDP

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Qr_O119547
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