Ploughing, with sunburst by Thomas Hennell, watercolour, 12 x 18½in (30 x 47cm), £2750 at Sim Fine Art.

Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

The pictures are the work of Thomas Hennell (1903-45) and the collection was owned by fellow artist Peter Coate (1926-2016). On April 1 they go on sale for the first time with the launch of the exhibition.

Kent-born Hennell qualified as a teacher and while teaching began travelling the British countryside and recording it in art and writing. At the outbreak of war in 1939 he wrote to the War Artist’s Advisory Committee (WAAC) to offer his services and his first commission was to record the harvest of 1941.

The Ministry of Agriculture wanted a record of the subject of wartime food production and Hennell’s watercolours were both picturesque and important documentary items.


Mr Wiggins, the son of the shepherd, Richard Wiggin (1820- 1913) wearing his father’s smock, by Thomas Hennell, reed pen, 12 x 12in (30 x 31cm), £1250 at Sim Fine Art.

Most of the works in the show were completed during the war and feature the landscape of Kent, recorded by Hennell for the WAAC as well as the Pilgrims Trust and the Recording Britain project. For Coate, who built up the collection, the pictures were reminders of his own childhood, coming from a background of land workers.

Sim says of the pictures: “They’re not quite as idyllic and nostalgic as they seem, since they were very much reportage from the front line of the ‘Food War’ – and Hennell had been commissioned to record the effects of war on agriculture, showing makeshift gaggles of men and women making do in the fields.”

Also included are two pictures from Hennell’s later career as a full-time salaried war artist in Normandy and a pen drawing of Mr Wiggins, the son of the Shepherd Richard Wiggins wearing his father’s smock.

His end was mysterious. Later in the war he went to Asia and was based with an RAF unit near Rangoon as the Japanese retreated. He then travelled in Asia and witnessed the surrender of Singapore before moving onto Java where he was captured by Indonesian nationalist fighters and presumed killed.


Spring Cabbage – Picking Winter Greens by Thomas Hennell, watercolour, 11 x 18½in (29 x 47cm), £2950 at Sim Fine Art.

Today his pictures are held at The Imperial War Museum, the Tate and the Ministry of Defence art collection.

As well as painting and illustrating, he wrote several books including Change in the Farm (1934) covering shifts in traditional techniques, The Witnesses (1938) about his struggles with mental illness, and two collections of poetry. n