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Exhibition curated by the Victoria and Albert Museum, examines Britain on the brink of change
Byron Dawson, Downham Village, near Clitheroe, Lancashire. Watercolour, 1940. Victorian and Albert Museum, London.

DURHAM.- An exhibition of drawings and watercolours commissioned to record the landscape of Britain at the outbreak of the Second World War starts a national tour in Durham.

The Recording Britain collection, owned by the Victoria and Albert Museum, was the result of a unique project to capture images of vulnerable buildings, landscapes and lifestyles at a time of immense change.

Initiated by Sir Kenneth Clark and funded by the Pilgrim Trust, the collection was compiled as the country faced not only the potentially devastating impact of the war but also the often equally damaging effects of progress and development.

More than 90 artists – young and old, men and women, renowned professionals and gifted amateurs – contributed to the project between 1939 and 1943.

The 1,500 works produced feature quiet villages, bustling market towns, ancient parish churches, fairgrounds, follies, country inns and vanishing rural industries, which all seem to embody the ideals Britain was fighting for.

Some pictures show places at immediate risk, such as historic buildings due for demolition, areas of countryside such as the South Downs, which were threatened by housing and a new road, and an entire Derbyshire village which was about to be submerged by a new reservoir.

Among the artists who contributed were some of the country’s finest watercolour painters including John Piper, Charles Knight, Michael Rothenstein, Kenneth Rowntree, Stanley Badmin, Barbara Jones and Phyllis Dimond.

Curated by the V&A, this touring exhibition, at the DLI Museum and Durham Art Gallery from Friday, 29 March to Sunday, 30 June, looks at the aims and achievements of Recording Britain. Selected works from the collection will be displayed alongside guide books of the period and photographs made for the National Monuments record in the 1940s.

The ideas and values which motivated the original Recording Britain scheme have also influenced artists and photographers from the 1940s to the present day. To illustrate this continuity, works by contemporary artist such as Conrad Atkinson, David Nash,
Richard Long, Keith Arnatt and Ingrid Pollard also feature.

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