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Watercolour - Boys collecting bracken on the Breckland
  • Boys collecting bracken on the Breckland
    Moore, Mona Mary, born 1917 - died 2000
  • Enlarge image

Boys collecting bracken on the Breckland

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Breckland (painted)

  • Date:

    1941 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Moore, Mona Mary, born 1917 - died 2000 (painter (artist))

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Pen and ink and sepia and wash

  • Credit Line:

    Given by the Pilgrim Trust

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level D, case RB, shelf 21, box A

The Breckland, a stretch of heath and forest on the border between Suffolk and Norfolk, is one of the wildest and least settled parts of East Anglia. For centuries, the sparse local population used the bracken ferns that gave the area its name for fuel, animal feed and roof thatch. Although the practice largely died out in the twentieth century, Mona Moore here depicts local boys gathering bracken, in what today seems like a nostalgic glimpse into the past. The Breckland, however, looks much the same today; it has largely been preserved from development.

Physical description

A drawing of a very faintly sketched view of the Breckland, Norfolk. In the middle distance several boys are collecting bracken from the ground.

Place of Origin

Breckland (painted)


1941 (painted)


Moore, Mona Mary, born 1917 - died 2000 (painter (artist))

Materials and Techniques

Pen and ink and sepia and wash

Marks and inscriptions

'Mona Moore '41'
Signed by the artist in pencil, lower right

'Collecting bracken, Breckland, Norfolk'
Inscribed by the artist in pencil, lower left corner


Height: 11.125 in, Width: 16.25 in

Object history note

This is one of two views of the Breckland by Mona Moore for the Recording Britain project. The rest of her Norfolk watercolours depict town scenes (King's Lynn, Great Yarmouth and Thetford).
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 Breckland is a stretch of heath on the southern border of Norfolk, so named because of the thick growth of bracken fern. Local breeds of sheep are able to graze on the fern, and the local population has found many uses for the bracken over the years, including fuel, sillage, pig feed, and roof thatching.

Descriptive line

Watercolour, 'Boys Collecting Bracken on the Breckland', by Mona Moore (Recording Britain, Norfolk).

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. Introduction to Norfolk, p.145.


Pen and ink; Sepia; Wash; Paper


Watercolour drawing; Wash technique

Subjects depicted

Topographical views; Heaths


Recording Britain Collection; Paintings


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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