The Old Prison, Northleach

Watercolour
1943 (made)
Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Prints & Drawings Study Room, level H
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

Watercolour painting; signed, dated and titled. View from the road of a complex of three buildings, linked by high walls; the right-hand block with cross-shaped lancet windows. A lawned forecourt ends at a low boundary wall and a hill rises at left in the background. The prison was built in the 1790s to the innovative and influential design of the High Sheriff of Gloucestershire and penal reformer, Sir George Onesiphorus Paul.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Additional TitleRecording Britain (named collection)
Materials and Techniques
Watercolour painting on paper
Brief Description
Watercolour by Robert J. Swan, 'The Old Prison, Northleach', from the Recording Britain Collection (Gloucestershire); England, 1943.
Physical Description
Watercolour painting; signed, dated and titled. View from the road of a complex of three buildings, linked by high walls; the right-hand block with cross-shaped lancet windows. A lawned forecourt ends at a low boundary wall and a hill rises at left in the background. The prison was built in the 1790s to the innovative and influential design of the High Sheriff of Gloucestershire and penal reformer, Sir George Onesiphorus Paul.
Dimensions
  • Height: 24.1cm
  • Width: 34.9cm
Marks and Inscriptions
  • 'Robert Swan 1943' (Signed and dated at lower left corner)
  • 'The Prison, Northlach' (Inscribed at lower right corner)
Credit line
Given by the Pilgrim Trust
Object history
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
'At the crossing of the Fosse Way the POLICE STATION was built in 1789-91 by Sir Onesiphorus Paul to designs of William Blackburn as a 'house of correction', like others in the county. The buildings round the courtyard have been demolished, and only the front survives, a central block with rusticated quoins, joined by curtain walls to pavilions either side.'



Verey, David. The Buildings of England: Gloucestershire I: The Cotswolds. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1970. pp.342-343.
Subjects depicted
Places Depicted
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. 3: Lancashire and Westmoreland, Derbyshire, Cheshire and Shropshire, Staffordshire, Welsh counties, Worcestershire, Herefordshire, Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire. p.201.
Collection
Accession Number
E.1494-1949

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record createdJune 30, 2009
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