Thursday 26 March 2009

The School Prints, 1940s

The latest two acquisitions relate to the post-War, moving forward and new beginning, aspect of the 1940s. They are two original lithographs from the School Prints series of 1946 and 1947. This one, No.3 in the first series of twelve issued in 1946, is titled Tractor and was by the artist Kenneth Rowntree (1915-1997).

School Prints Ltd was an idealistic enterprise set up originally in the 1930s with the aim of making available to schools, and particularly those children who would probably never visit a gallery, reproductions of great paintings. It was the brainchild of Derek Rawnsley, grandson of Canon Rawnsley of The National Trust fame (see earlier post). In 1941, now serving as an RAF pilot, he married the equally well connected Brenda Hugh-Jones and it was she who was to keep the School Prints project going after his death two years later and once her own distinguished war service was over.

With the idea now to commission artists to produce 'original' lithographs for sale to primary schools, Brenda Rawnsley put a team of experts and advisors together. It was headed by Herbert Read who has been described as the leading spokesman for the arts of his generation, an anarchist and a visionary who believed that art should be the basis of all learning. 'Education through Art', he wrote, 'is education for peace'.

Kenneth Rowntree a Quaker and conscientious objector, had been one of the artists commissioned during the war by The Pilgrim Trust for its Recording Britain project with the purpose of distilling aspects of heritage, landscape and the British way of life that might not survive the hostilities. In 'Tractor', he provides a soothing image of pastoral peace and calm to heal a young generation scarred by war.

In the tractor and plough, Rowntree's distinctive style of the very flat but highly detailed image is evident. He may well have taken the similar type of views to be found in manufacturers' catalogues of the day as his guide. The tractor depicted is clearly a Standard Fordson, in the harvest gold livery that was first used in 1937.

And the plough? A Ransomes No.12 two furrow self-lift - a common tractor plough of the period made by the famous Ipswich manufacturer.

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