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Gems of the Archive: Water and Wind

One of the things I have realised whilst working with the collections is how inspirational traditional milling has been to a huge variety of artists. This beautiful watercolour comes from one such artist.

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This week I have been working on the book Windmills, a collection of watercolours and poetic anecdotes by the internationally renowned artist Frank Brangwyn. One of the watercolours will soon be featured on the website as one of our new gems, but I had to take this opportunity to share with you another of these beautiful works of art.

‘It was originally a fine masculine affair, strong, austere, frowning – a very buccaneer of a windmill, divorced from human sympathies and fighting a solitary battle against the implacable forces of nature. It gave up the ghost years ago, when worn out by ceaseless toil and struggle, it stood there in black armless majesty, battered into defeat, its sinister face spattered nightly with the blood of dying suns’.

– Frank Brangwyn, Windmills (1923)

This watercolour is of St Benet’s Abbey Mill in Norfolk, which was originally built to grind oil before being converted to power a drainage pump. What is so evocative about this image is that it depicts a disused mill within the ruins of the Abbey gateway, reflecting the continuously changing landscapes around us. The beautiful union created by the 18th Century mill sitting alongside the 9th Century Abbey ruins helps to narrate the patchwork of stories sewn by the people who have lived and worked in the area throughout the centuries.

Usually Brangwyn uses much brighter and more vivid colours in his work, but his use of a more muted palette in this image helps to draw the two ruins together, as well as conveying a sense of noble decay. The watercolours are accompanied by moving and poetic accounts of the mills, giving us a real sense of Brangwyn’s attachment to the mills and millers who inhabit a world now lost.