Recording Britain: The Curator’s Talk

Yesterday afternoon Gill Saunders from the V&A gave a talk at Eastbourne’s Towner Art Gallery about the current Recording Britain exhibition. Below are a few rambling notes taken from the talk.

The Recording Britain collection is held at the V&A. The work is currently on tour, the Towner being the final exhibition (I think)

The scheme was set up by the director of the National Gallery, Sir Kenneth Clarke in 1939 as part of the official War Art Scheme

The Pilgrim Trust funded the project

Just over 90 artists; men and women both professionals and amateurs were commissioned to make ‘sympathetic’ records of vulnerable buildings (i.e. buildings ready to be pulled down), landscapes and lifestyles. Examples mentioned were inns, parishes, farms, follies and villages

Surprisingly, the exhibition documents areas of England at a staggering 95% and Wales at only 5%. Scotland not being included as it had its own project, Recording Scotland, again set up by The Pilgrim Trust .

Clarke intended the work should be documented by drawings and watercolours

Clarke thought at the time photography wouldn’t capture a true interpretation

Watercolour had more prominence in British Art though out of favour with the avant-garde and now considered a medium for the amateur

Edward Walker, an artist with very distinct, detailed style especially in his architectural drawings, made a series of observations back in 1940. ‘The disappearance of old England and its ever-increasing Americanization’ I thought that comment could be very relevant today.

Fish Street, Shrewsbury
Edward Walker: Fish Street, Shrewsbury (1943)

In similar character, Louise Puller disregards modernisation and has a contempt for town halls.


Charles Knight was commissioned to document the vulnerable landscapes

Value your local landscape, places which symbolise natural identity

References by John Betjeman,  the beauty of the villages

Many scenes from the collection depicting timeless landscapes, non-evident industrialization such as telegraph poles

Russell Reeve Fraston Tower in Suffolk. The decorative vernacular folly

Freston Tower, Suffolk
Russell Reeve: Freston Tower, Suffolk (1941)

County life scenes are the central focus, industrial landscapes are marginalised


Documented industrialization: Manchester shipping yards, Cornish tin mines

It was highlighted by a member of the majority of the work was recorded in 1940/1941. However, my interest was piqued when I learned that Laura Oldfield Ford , a graphic artist I very much admire especially for her punky, post-industrial landscapes, was also included in the collection. As her work is fairly recent, I wondered if the Recording Britain project is an ongoing project. Not sure if image below was in the collection.

Laura Oldfield Ford  Heygate Estate
Laura Oldfield Ford: Heygate Estate (2010)







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