Or are you looking for Search the Archives?

Please complete the form to email this item.

Watercolour - Cottage Gardens, Dalham, Suffolk
  • Cottage Gardens, Dalham, Suffolk
    Cowern, Raymond Teague, born 1913 - died 1986
  • Enlarge image

Cottage Gardens, Dalham, Suffolk

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Dalham (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1940 (Painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Cowern, Raymond Teague, born 1913 - died 1986 (painter (artist))

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Watercolour on paper

  • Credit Line:

    Given by the Pilgrim Trust

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level D, case RB, shelf 37

A perfect expression of the English Picturesque, Cowern's picture demonstrates how village settlemetns expanded by gradual accretion, the cottages as much an organic growth as the landscape in which they are set. Surrounded by outhouses and lean-tos, these untidy cottages are the antithesis of the artificial neatness of the 'well-kept' villages of commuters and weekenders that became popular after World War II.

The gardens shown here are true cottage gardens -- plots given over to fruit, vegetables and herbs, with flowers providing an incidental splash of colour. The concept of the 'cottage garden' today, as a plot planted with masses of old-fashioned flowers, is an invention of the wealthy: no labourer could have afforded to replace his vegetables with flowers.

Physical description

A watercolour depicting cottage gardens planted with neat rows of vegetables, backed by a thatched cottage and several small outhouses and lean-tos. The palette is restricted to dark greens and browns.

Place of Origin

Dalham (made)


ca. 1940 (Painted)


Cowern, Raymond Teague, born 1913 - died 1986 (painter (artist))

Materials and Techniques

Watercolour on paper

Marks and inscriptions

'Cottage Gardens - Dalham - R. T. Cowern'
Inscribed by the artist, lower right corner


Height: 11.50 in, Width: 16.50 in

Object history note

This latter-day expression of the English Picturesque demonstartes how village settlements expanded by gradual accretion, the cottages as much an organic growth as the landscape in which they were set.
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 significance: Cowern's watercolour depicts a cottage garden in the original sense (a plot given over to fruit, vegetables, and herbs, with flowers as an incidental splash of colour). The concept of a 'cottage garden' as consisting primarily of plantings of old-fashioned flowers was a creation of the wealthy and only gained currency after the war; a labourer could not have afforded to fill his plot with flowers.

Historical context note

The 'untidiness' of the old cottages in villages like Dalham would be supplanted in post-war town planning by the artificial neatness of villages intended for commuters and weekenders.

Descriptive line

A watercolour of cottage gardens at Dalham, by Raymond Cowern (Recording Britain, Suffolk).

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Mellor, D., G. Saunders, P. Wright, Recording Britain: A Pictorial Domesday of Pre-War Britain. 1990. pp. 140-41.
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.


Watercolour; Paper


Watercolour drawing

Subjects depicted

Topographical views; Cottages; Gardens


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.