Recording Britain – Edited by Gill Saunders

A couple of years ago we went to visit friends in Eastbourne.  One of the things we went to look at was an art gallery that had an exhibition of some of the Recording Britain watercolours.

I enjoyed looking around the exhibition so much I bought a book to find out more about the Recording Britain project.  Typically for me the book got buried in the pile of books waiting to be read and has finally surfaced as part of my “reading the coffee-table books” drive.

The Recording Britain project was set up in 1940 with the dual aims of recording typical English and Welsh scenes (Scotland and Northern Ireland weren’t included in the scheme) that were likely to disappear either through Luftwaffe bombing or modernisation and to provide employment for watercolour, landscape artists who were struggling to find work because of the war.  The project was sponsored by the Pilgrim Trust and subject to a lot of political wrangling behind the scenes.

The book explains various aspects of the project and its subsequent history.  It explains the variable quality of the paintings, the very randomness of the subject matter and the overall lack of interest in the paintings once the project was completed.  It is a mixture of text and reproductions of some of the paintings.

I enjoyed reading about the project and the paintings but I found the layout of the book quite frustrating.  The chapters started with a chunk of text and were followed by the paintings.  This meant a lot of flicking back and forth when trying to see what the editor was talking about.  It would have been much better if the picture was close to the text.  I also found it a bit annoying that some double pages had a picture on each page whilst others had 1 picture and a blank page.  No rhyme or reason and it felt like wasted space, which could have been used to show another of the paintings.

I wouldn’t recommend buying this book to find out about the Recording Britain project; I think you can out about it much more easily online.  I am, however, pleased I bought it.  It has such a wide variety of pictures in it, well reproduced and I expect I will leaf through it and day-dream, curled up in front of a nice fire, when it’s raining and cold outside.

Click here to find out more about Recording Britain


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