Or are you looking for Search the Archives?

Please complete the form to email this item.

The Bridge at Tyringham, Buckinghamshire

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Tyringham (painted)

  • Date:

    April 1940 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Piper, John, born 1903 - died 1992 (painter (artist))

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Pen and ink and watercolour on paper

  • Credit Line:

    Given by the Pilgrim Trust

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level H, case RB, shelf 46

In 1940 the Ministry of Labour, in association with the Pilgrim Trust, established a project to commission artists to provide a record of the changing face of Britain. This remarkably ambitious scheme was known as 'Recording Britain'. The secretary of the Central Institute of Art and Design recommended in 1939 that 'artists should be appointed to make drawings, paintings and prints at the war fronts, in factories, workshops, shipyards and on the land, and of the changed life of the towns and villages, thus making a permanent record of life during the war which would be a memorial to the national effort, and of particular local value'. The impetus behind the project was the threat of extensive bomb damage during the Second World War, particularly in the cities but also in the countryside.

Early work by John Piper (1903-1992) was abstract in style. By the late 1930s he had begun designing for the theatre. His watercolours for 'Recording Britain' of church interiors, landscape gardens and country house parks have, as in this painting, the dramatic quality of stage scenery. Tyringham in Buckinghamshire was designed by the architect Sir John Soane and built between 1793 and 1797.

Physical description

Watercolour painting; signed and dated. House, bridge and screen at Tyringham were devised as a complete scheme by that master of architectural illusion, John Soane. In the artist's picture both bridge and screen appear as flat and insubstantial as stage scenery, though in reality each is massively solid. By this device he emphasises their role as creators of dramatic effect, props designed to enhance the central figure in the drama, the house itself, not seen in the picture.

Place of Origin

Tyringham (painted)


April 1940 (painted)


Piper, John, born 1903 - died 1992 (painter (artist))

Materials and Techniques

Pen and ink and watercolour on paper

Marks and inscriptions

'John Piper Tyringham April 1940'
Signed and dated in pencil


Height: 36.8 cm, Width: 48.9 cm

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 covered 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.

Descriptive line

Watercolour by John Piper, 'The Bridge, Tyringham', from the Recording Britain Collection (Buckinghamshire); 1940. Signed and dated.

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.
Mellor, David, Gill Saunders and Patrick Wright. Recording Britain: A Pictorial Domesday of Pre-War Britain. Newton Abbot and London: David & Charles in association with the Victoria and Albert Museum, 1990. pp.48-49, illus.
Palmer, Arnold, ed. Recording Britain. London: Oxford University Press, 1946-49. Vol 1: London and Middlesex, Surrey, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire. p.153, Introduction to Buckinghamshire.
Pevsner, Nikolaus and Elizabeth Williamson. The Buildings of England: Buckinghamshire. London: Penguin, 1994. pp.703-706.
Victoria and Albert Museum, Department of Prints and Drawings and Department of Paintings, Accessions 1949, London: HMSO, 1961.


Pen and ink; Watercolour; Paper



Subjects depicted

Historic houses; Topographical views; Bridges (built works)


Drawings; Paintings; Recording Britain Collection


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

Large image request

Please confirm you are using these images within the following terms and conditions, by acknowledging each of the following key points:

Please let us know how you intend to use the images you will be downloading.