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Watercolour - Interior of the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Lindsell
  • Interior of the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Lindsell
    Rowntree, Kenneth, born 1915 - died 1997
  • Enlarge image

Interior of the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Lindsell

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Lindsell (painted)

  • Date:

    ca. 1942 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

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

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Watercolour on paper

  • Credit Line:

    Given by the Pilgrim Trust

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level H, case RB, shelf 10, box D

One of ten views of churches and chapels in Essex painted by Kenneth Rowntree for the Recording Britain scheme, this image of the interior of Lindsell parish church is one of the most dramatic. Rowntree's trademark magical realism is in evidence here, as is his painstaking attention to the written word (in this case, the gilded text of the Lord's Prayer). Unable to bear witness or testify verbally as a Quaker, Rowntree seems to have treated these texts as found objects and wrote them out again.

Physical description

A watercolour showing the interior of the church of St. Mary the Virgin, Lindsell. The scene is dramatically divided by a triple column; to the left is a wooden door, to the right, a prayer board containing the Lord's Prayer and a text from Exodus. Signed.

Place of Origin

Lindsell (painted)


ca. 1942 (painted)


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

Materials and Techniques

Watercolour on paper

Marks and inscriptions

'Kenneth Rowntree'
Signed in pencil by the artist, upper left corner.


Height: 12.875 in, Width: 19.375 in

Object history note

This is the only picture of the church at Lindsell Rowntree undertook for Recording Britain; the bulk of his Essex watercolours focus on the churches and chapels of Little Saling, Tilty and Dunmow. Rowntree often concentrated on written texts in his church and chapel pictures, and this watercolour, with its insistent foregrounding of the prayer board, is typical; David Mellor has theorised that this is perhaps because, as a Quaker, Rowntree was unable to bear witness or testify verbally, and so treated the texts as objets trouves and wrote them out again.

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

A pacifist and conscientious objector, Rowntree encountered frequent harassment during his time as a war artist because he was seen as a security risk. His decision to concentrate on churches may stem as much from personal preference and faith as it did from a desire to avoid the opposition from military authorities he encountered while sketching dock installations.

Edward Bawden, who formed part of a community of artists with Rowntree and Eric Ravilious in the nearby village of Great Bardfield, later produced a linocut of Lindsell church (1961).

Descriptive line

Watercolour, 'Interior of the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Lindsell', by Kenneth Rowntree; from the Recording Britain Collection (Essex); England, ca. 1942.

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.
Bettley, James and Nikolaus Pevsner. The Buildings of England: Essex. New Haven and London: Yale, 2007. p.535.


Watercolour; Paper


Watercolour drawing

Subjects depicted

Parish churches; Interiors (religious)


Recording Britain Collection; Paintings


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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