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Watercolour - Gibraltar Tower Mill, Great Bardfield
  • Gibraltar Tower Mill, Great Bardfield
    Rothenstein, Michael, born 1908 - died 1993
  • Enlarge image

Gibraltar Tower Mill, Great Bardfield

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Essex (painted)

  • Date:

    1943 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Rothenstein, Michael, born 1908 - died 1993 (painter (artist))

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Watercolour on paper

  • Credit Line:

    Given by the Pilgrim Trust

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level C, case MB2G, shelf DR80, box MP337

Michael Rothenstein lived in the village of Great Bardfield, Essex, from the late 1930s; the village became something of an artists' colony, with other residents including the Neo-romantic artists Edward Bawden, Eric Ravilious and Kenneth Rowntree. Gibraltar Tower Mill, the oldest (c. 1660), and one of the largest and finest tower mills in Essex, dominates its surroundings. The mill's working life ended in 1930, and in this 1943 watercolour, signs of dilapidation are apparent. However, it was one of the county's relatively few windmills to have escaped total dereliction following the war, being converted into a private house in 1957.

Physical description

A watercolour showing a large wooden tower windmill dominating a farm; a barn in the middle ground is dwarfed by the windmill. Signed and dated.

Place of Origin

Essex (painted)


1943 (painted)


Rothenstein, Michael, born 1908 - died 1993 (painter (artist))

Materials and Techniques

Watercolour on paper

Marks and inscriptions

'Michael Rothenstein '43'
Signed and dated by the artist, upper left corner


Height: 504 mm, Width: 633 mm max

Object history note

This watercolour depicts one of the largest windmills in Essex, Gibraltar Tower Mill, which is one of relatively few mills to have survived to the present day. It was converted into a private house in 1957-58.

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

Michael Rothenstein lived in the village of Great Bardfield, Essex, in the late 1930s and through the beginning of the war. The village was something of an artists' colony, numbering Edward Bawden, Kenneth Rowntree, and Eric Ravilious among its residents; although these four artists' styles varied greatly, they were all, at the time, painting topographical watercolours.

Gibraltar Tower Mill is probably the oldest (c. 1660) in Essex. It was twice converted into a house, first in the eighteenth century (it then reverted to its original purpose in 1751 and remained a working mill until 1930), then in 1957-58. It remains a privately-owned house today.

Descriptive line

Watercolour, 'Gibraltar Tower Mill, Great Bardfield', by Michael Rothenstein; from the Recording Britain Collection (Essex); England, 1943.

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.
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.
Palmer, Arnold, ed. Recording Britain. London: Oxford University Press, 1946-49. Vol 2: Essex, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire, Northhamptonshire and Rutlandshire, Norfolk, Yorkshire. pp. 42-43, illus.


Watercolour; Paper


Watercolour drawing

Subjects depicted

Windmills; Topographical views


Recording Britain Collection; Paintings


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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