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The Livermore Tombs, Barnston, Essex

  • Object:

    Watercolour

  • Place of origin:

    Barnston (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1940 (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:

    E.1407-1949

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

These tombstones in the churchyard at Barnston, Essex, tell a sad tale. Four of the daughters of Edward and Sarah Livermore died young: the first, Martha Susannah, died of 'a slow decline' at the age of fourteen in 1827. Thirteen years later, in 1840, Emma, age 22, was thrown from her horse. Eight months after that, Jane, nineteen, died of a heart attack, closely followed by sixteen-year-old Maria who succumbed to smallpox.

Kenneth Rowntree's deliberately prosaic and finely detailed view not only gives an insight into the fates of the Livermore daughters, but also provides a valuable record of the appearance of a typical country churchyard before the mass clearances of the 1950s and 1960s. Not only was much local social history lost, the gravestones themselves, fine examples of the mason's craft, were often broken up.

Physical description

A watercolour drawing of a grassy churchyard, with four tombstones belonging to the daughters of one family. The names and the rest of the text on the stones are legible, thus allowing the sad tale of the early deaths to be understood. The wooden fence around the churchyard is seen in the background, and further one can see trees and part of a building. Signed.

Place of Origin

Barnston (made)

Date

ca. 1940 (Painted)

Artist/maker

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

Materials and Techniques

Watercolour on paper

Marks and inscriptions

'Kenneth Rowntree'

Dimensions

Height: 12 7/16 in, Width: 18 7/8 in

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 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: Many country churchyards were clared in th 1950s and 1960s, and the gravestones broken up (or, at best, preserved as flagstones). This watercolour provides a valuable record of a typical country churchyard in the pre-war period.

Descriptive line

Watercolour of the Livermore Tombs, Barnston, Essex, by Kenneth Rowntree; from the Recording Britain Collection (Essex); England, ca. 1940.

Materials

Watercolour; Paper

Techniques

Watercolour drawing

Subjects depicted

Barnston; Essex; Tombstones; Churchyard; Topographical views

Categories

Recording Britain Collection; Paintings

Collection

Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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