19 3/4 x 23 3/4 in. (50 x 60 cm)
Exhibited: WW2 - War Pictures by British Artists, Morley College London, 28 October -23 November 2016, cat 69.
Literature: WW2 - War Pictures by British Artists, Edited by Sacha Llewellyn & Paul Liss, July 2016, cat 69, page 106.
The scene is set in Middle Assendon - Assendon Farm House is visible behind. The village, in the Stonor valley in the Chiltern Hills (about 2 miles northwest of Henley-on-Thames) was visited by many artists during WW2, including Eric Kennngton, largely on account of Hubert Wellington, Director of Art at the Royal College of Art, who lived in the vicinity.
According to the shoulder badges worn by the soldiers this shows men
from the 3rd Infantry Division. This division spent 4 years training
in the UK post-Dunkirk which dates the subject to between late in 1940
and mid-1944. The 3rd Infantry was the first GB division to land at
Sword Beach on D-Day.
Three of Ford's war-time canvases are in the collection of the Imperial War Museum.
copyright: Imperial War Museum, War Weapons Week in a Country Town.
Italian Prisoners-of-war Working on the Land
Michael Ford's deafness precluded his entry into the Services so he worked on a farm near Micheldever in Hampshire as his contribution to the war efforst whilst also being an active member of the Home Guard. He made a number of independant submissions to the War Artists' Advisory Committee, initially with a painting he had done from sketches made in a shepherd's hut where he waited for his turn of duty at night. The painting showed two members of the Home Guards 'brewing cocoa by the light of a candle with the radar queer shadows thrown on [the] wall roof'. The painting Home Guards Brewing Tea just before Dawn was purchased the following month for then guineas. Ford was obliged to apply for a sketching permit as the area where he was living had recently had 'some air raid damage and not having a permit he could not sketch on the spot of course but only from memory'. Ford was refused a permit by the Central Institute of Art and Design (CIAD). Dickey was sympathetic to Ford's application and noted that the CIAD were only granting permits 'to artists whose work is of a very high standard and who depend on this type of work for the major portion of their livelihood'.
Mrs Ford wrote on several occasions to Dickey to seek his support to overturn the refusal which she saw as 'decidedly unfair'. She said, 'he can hardly produce a pencil or paper without someone or other questioning him... He has no intention of travelling about looking for War secrets to drax - he is very much tied here in Hampshire, but drawing of any sort in public is almost impossible as things are'. Dickey wrote to the CIAD to questin the refusal but received a letter from Fennemore stating, 'I think there is very little chance that the Committee will revise its opinion. Mr Ford sent some very unimpressive work for the Committee to inspect.'
In May 1941 Ford submitted unsuccessfully a painting of a Land Girl who worked on his family's farm entitled The Under Shepherd. In July his painting War Weapons Week in a Country Town was purchased for fifteen guineas. Ford was pleased it was bought and visited the exhibition with his mother at the National Gallery where it was on display alongside other wartime paintings. Eric Newton in the foreword to the catalogue commented that it was a side of the war that no other artist had tackled. He described how Ford 'in his innocent little picture, has put into paint a charming description of the local brass band, the girl guides, the improvised platform, the Union Jack and the mildly interested handful of spectators - a glimpse of democracy trying hard to cover itself with a veneer of regimentation and ceremony;' After this visit Ford wrote to Dickey, ' I have to help with the harvest now so shall not get much time but hope to send more work up later on.'
The following February Ford submitted another oil painting Italian Prisoners at Potato Harvest, later retitled Italian Prisoners-of-war Working on the Land. The Committee approved the purchase later that month for the sum of fifteen guineas. The Committee also agreed that he should send it to the Royal Academy for consideration for selection in the Summer Exhibition. The RA did not accept it. Ford also designed a poster in April 1942 featuring a Land Girl: 'Are you working for shirking? More women are needed.' Further submissions were declined, including one of a woman chopping wood as part of the fuel saving campaign as it did not come withing the category of a record of the war. Dickey explained 'The Committee are frequently obliged, by their terms of reference, to reject otherwise excellent paintings, on the grount that - as far as subject is concerned - they might have been painted pre-war.'
We are grateful to Gill Clarke.
Gill Clarke, The Women's Land Army, A Portrait.