The Bellringer's Chamber, SS. Peter and Paul Church, Clare thumbnail 1
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On display at V&A South Kensington
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The Bellringer's Chamber, SS. Peter and Paul Church, Clare

Watercolour
ca. 1940-ca. 1942 (painted)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

Kenneth Rowntree's crisp, colourful style, bordering on Magical Realism, is very much in evidence in this watercolour of the bellringer's chamber in Clare church. The church dates from the Norman Conquest and the beauty of its fifteenth-century nave and chancel are well known, but here Rowntree concentrates on the text of a notice board detailing early church donors. Rowntree often emphasised the written word in his pictures of churches and chapels; perhaps, as a Quaker unable to bear witness or testify, these texts held special import for him as 'found objects'. Indeed, in later years he acknowledged that 'words are what my work is really all about'.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Additional TitleRecording Britain (named collection)
Materials and Techniques
Watercolour and bodycolour drawing on paper
Brief Description
Watercolour, 'The Bellringer's Chamber, SS. Peter and Paul Church, Clare', by Kenneth Rowntree
Physical Description
A watercolour drawing of the interior of the bellringer's chamber in SS. Peter and Paul Church, Clare. A large black notice board detailing early donations to the church dominates the picture; light comes from a small high leaded window at left. A red cloth with a fleur-de-lys pattern is draped over a railing, lower left.
Dimensions
  • Height: 12.375in
  • Width: 19in
  • Sheet size height: 349mm (measured)
  • Sheet size width: 512mm (measured)
  • Image size height: 318mm
  • Image size width: 487mm
Marks and Inscriptions
'Kenneth Rowntree' (Signed in pencil by the artist, lower right.)
Credit line
Given by the Pilgrim Trust
Object history
As is often the case in Rowntree's watercolours of church interiors for the Recording Britain scheme, the written word dominates the scene. This has been attributed to his Quaker beliefs and his attempt to translate them into pictorial terms. According to David Mellor, Rowntree, unable to testify or bear witness as a Quaker, may have thought of these words as objets trouves and wrote them out again. Indeed, Rowntree himself later said, 'I have come to realise that words are what my work is all about' (1990).

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
Clare church was originally built after the Norman Conquest; most of the present building (the chancel, the nave, and the belfry) dates from the later fifteenth century.
Subjects depicted
Places Depicted
Summary
Kenneth Rowntree's crisp, colourful style, bordering on Magical Realism, is very much in evidence in this watercolour of the bellringer's chamber in Clare church. The church dates from the Norman Conquest and the beauty of its fifteenth-century nave and chancel are well known, but here Rowntree concentrates on the text of a notice board detailing early church donors. Rowntree often emphasised the written word in his pictures of churches and chapels; perhaps, as a Quaker unable to bear witness or testify, these texts held special import for him as 'found objects'. Indeed, in later years he acknowledged that 'words are what my work is really all about'.
Bibliographic References
  • 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. Introduction to Suffolk, p.49.
  • P. 104Chris Stephens and John-Paul Stonnard ; with David Alan Mellor, Peter T.J. Rumley and John Wyver., Kenneth Clark : looking for civilisation London: Tate Gallery, 2014. ISBN: 9781849762601
Collection
Accession Number
E.2159-1949

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record createdDecember 8, 2005
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