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Watercolour - St. Bartholomew's Church from the South-West, Orford, Suffolk
  • St. Bartholomew's Church from the South-West, Orford, Suffolk
    Airy, Jack L.
  • Enlarge image

St. Bartholomew's Church from the South-West, Orford, Suffolk

  • Object:

    Watercolour

  • Place of origin:

    Orford (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1940 (Painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Airy, Jack L. (painter (artist))

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Watercolour painting on paper

  • Credit Line:

    Given by the Pilgrim Trust

  • Museum number:

    E.2105-1949

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Jack L. Airy appears, on the evidence of his schematic, naive style and the dearth of available biographical information, to have been a talented amateur. This view of St Bartholomew's Church in Orford is one of the best of the eight Suffolk pictures he contributed to the Recording Britain project. Though the perspective is unconvincing and the colours flat, it is nevertheless an accurate and evocative record of its subject.

Airy's snowy, mid-winter view of the ruined tower (which had collapsed partially in 1829) complements Louisa Puller's more conventional view of the church taken from the fields in high summer. Such duplication was rare in the Recording Britain collection, but in this case was felt to be justified because the two pictures differed so sharply in conception and in character.

Physical description

A watercolour drawing in sharply focused close-up of the ruined church tower from an unusual angle. Schematic and highly coloured, it has the charms of a naive and unpretentious style. Though the perspective is unconvincing and the colours flat, it is nevertheless an evocative record of the subject in a mid-winter setting.

Place of Origin

Orford (made)

Date

ca. 1940 (Painted)

Artist/maker

Airy, Jack L. (painter (artist))

Materials and Techniques

Watercolour painting on paper

Marks and inscriptions

'J. L. AIRY'

Dimensions

Height: 13.75 in, Width: 12.25 in

Object history note

This snowy, midwinter view of the ruined tower (which had partially collapsed in 1829) complements Louisa Puller's more conventional view of the church taken from the fields in high summer (E.2140-1949). Such duplication was uncommon in the Recording Britain project, but was considered justified in this case because the two pictures differed so much in conception and in character.

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: Jack L. Airy appears to have been a talented amateur, on the evidence of his schematic, naive style and the dearth of available biographical information. He contributed eight pictures of sites in Suffolk to the Recording Britain project.

Descriptive line

Watercolour of St Bartholomew's Church, Orford, by Jack L. Airy (Recording Britain, Suffolk).

Materials

Watercolour; Paper

Techniques

Watercolour drawing; Painting

Subjects depicted

Orford; Suffolk; Churches; Winter Scenes; Ruins; Topographical views

Categories

Recording Britain Collection

Collection code

Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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