Viewed across a field of billowy white cow parsley, is a man perched on scaffolding, busily tiling the roof of a red brick house. Below him, alongside a stack of new roof slates, is an old fashioned green wooden trailer, perhaps his temporary home while rebuilding continues. The blossoming tree set against a sky of rolling grey furls of cloud suggests this scene is set in late springtime – a season of transitional weather and growth. In 1933, John Aldridge was one of several artists including Edward Bawden and Eric Ravilious who had relocated from London to Great Bardfield in Essex, drawn to the area’s beautiful rural landscape. After the Second World War, the village continued to attract a wider community of artists, printmakers and textile designers including Michael Rothenstein, Marianne Straub and Bernard Cheese.
Aldridge’s 1947 painting speaks of the real and metaphorical emphasis on rebuilding that permeated post-war British society. Hundreds of thousands of homes had been destroyed during the War, displacing families and communities across the country. Austerity measures and food rationing continued long after the jubilation of VE day in May 1945, as did the slow process of rebuilding new homes. Initially, the government focused on supporting the repair of existing homes, a large majority of which were completed by late 1946. This was followed by the construction of new homes, schools, hospitals and other public buildings signalling a gradual move towards better standards of living and prosperity.
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