Recording Britain 1939-45

“To promote an artistic and historical record in the interests of the Nation’s morale. It was to be shown that the enemy had not extinguished British culture.”

Watercolours by Thomas Hennell and Vincent Lines

(Item Gallery available here)

At the outbreak of the Second World War, at the behest of Winston Churchill, a select group of artists were commissioned (by a Committee under the chairmanship of Sir Kenneth Clark) to make a visual record of significant landmarks that were perceived to be under threat from the depradations of wartime. These were collected together in a 4 volume series known as the ‘Recording Britain’ project.

One of these artists was Thomas Hennell RWS, a poet and author, as well as a noted watercolourist. Hennell, who lived for much of his life in Ridley, near Ash in Kent, was an authority on traditional agricultural practices, many of which were threatened by the demands of wartime food production. In 1941, he became an Official War Artist and was commissioned to record the harvest of that year by the War Artists Advisory Committee.

Shown here are three watercolours from that period: one showing the potato harvest at Ridley in 1941 and another, a traditional hayrick. The third shows a farmyard at Sandown on the Isle of Wight, painted when Hennell was stationed at Portsmouth.

Hennell, who was described by fellow War Artist, Carel Weight, as the “best English watercolourist since Turner”, sadly did not live to see out the War – he was captured and killed by Indonesian separatists in the Spring of 1945, at the age of 42.

Also included here is a fine watercolour by Hennell’s sometime painting partner, Vincent Lines RWS - also commissioned by the Recording Britain project. Painted in 1941, it depicts a group of Romany gypsies in Kent around a campfire. Unlike Hennell, Lines survived the War and lived to become the Vice President of the Royal Watercolour Society.

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