Thursday, 1 March 2018

Ravilious & Bawden in the Snow

Eric Ravilious, Halstead Road in Snow, 1935, private collection
So far I've resisted posting photos of the current Snowmageddon anywhere, mostly because I live in Bristol and we have about a teacupful. Instead, here are two rather different visions of snowfall. In each case we can see the artist using watercolour in a slightly unusual way.

Writing about 'Halstead Road in Snow' to Helen Binyon, Ravilious noted, 'Scratching the spots all over the drawing was a change, and I enjoyed it.' He managed to do this in such a way that the flakes of falling snow form a rough pattern, as if a diaphanous veil had been held up in front of the scene, yet there is no point at which the pattern becomes too neat. In fact there's a sense of jostling motion, enhanced by the movement suggested by the cycle tracks pulling the viewer's eye into the scene and around the corner.

Edward Bawden, February: 2pm, 1936, private collection
In startling contrast to this gentle scene of lightly falling flakes, Edward Bawden presents a howling blizzard. To appreciate 'February: 2pm' you really have to see it in person, and happily you will be able to do just that at Dulwich Picture Gallery this summer. When I took the dog to the park just now the snow was flying in our faces, battering painfully at exposed skin, and this is the kind of experience one senses Bawden trying to communicate. Across a wintry view of the garden at Brick House he has scrawled violently with crayon and pencil, and scratched with a blade - a good thing he used heavy lettering paper as anything more delicate would surely have been torn.

These differing impressions of winter weather give a good insight in these closely linked but very different artists. Where Ravilious tended towards coolness and control, Bawden was passionate and direct, and while the former often completed his watercolours in a studio, the latter insisted on working on site, returning each day until the picture was finished. Each used colour in a distinctive way, delicate in Eric's case, bold and surprising in Edward's. Each was in awe of the other.

'Edward Bawden' opens at Dulwich Picture Gallery in May. #Bawden2018
'Eric Ravilious: The Complete Watercolours' will be published next year by The Hedingham Press.

Friday, 12 January 2018

Eric Ravilious: The Lost Watercolours

Eric Ravilious, Fairey Battle, 1942

As you may have gathered, I'm currently putting together the catalogue raisonne (can't seem to do accents on this!) of Ravilious watercolours. This will form the basis of a book to be published in 2019, 'Eric Ravilious: The Complete Watercolours'. The aim is to include every known watercolour, and to that end I'm on a mission to find as many as possible of those that are missing. How do we know some are presently lost? In one or two cases pictures have actually been reported missing or destroyed. The photo of 'Fairey Battle' (above) appeared in a catalogue for an exhibition of war art shortly after World War II, but the painting itself was reportedly destroyed by fire in the 1960s.

Of course it's possible that the watercolour in fact escaped the fire - stranger things have happened - but this one is admittedly a bit of a long shot. Other works are no doubt hanging quietly on people's walls, having perhaps been inherited by people who may like the pictures without necessarily knowing much about them.

Eric Ravilious, Dredgers, 1934

Here's 'Dredgers', a watercolour that merited inclusion in a 1937 Studio magazine special devoted the medium. That was eighty years ago, so the picture has almost certainly changed hands since then. Was it sold through a dealer? Passed on to the original owner's children? Perhaps we'll find out.

Eric Ravilious, Attic Room, 1932

One watercolour that definitely did make it onto the wall of a commercial gallery was 'Attic Room', offered for sale in the 1980s by a London dealer. Judging from the black and white image, it stands somewhere between 'Apples and Walnuts' (Bristol City Art Gallery) and the wonderful 'Attic Bedroom', which hangs in the Fry.

And then there are pictures known only by brief descriptions, such as the 1936 Zwemmer Gallery piece described as a view of cows in a hollow of the Downs, or the watercolour 'Poultry', 'a study of a shed full of white leghorns...' These fragments and snippets are tantalizing, but being by nature absurdly optimistic I'm quite sure that the watercolours they refer to are out there, somewhere.

For more info on the catalogue raisonne project and forthcoming book, please visit the website of the Hedingham Press. Or if you'd like to get in touch please use this email address. All enquiries will of course be dealt with in the strictest confidence.

Monday, 8 January 2018

Edward Bawden: Preview

Bawden, Ravilious & More: Busy Times in 2018

Eric Ravilious, Vicarage in Winter, 1935, private collection
I would like to say that it's All Systems Go here in south Bristol, but it's hard to get moving in January, isn't it? It's cold and the sky outside is so lacklustre it's not even properly grey. But it is getting lighter again, and the camping season is not far off...

Meanwhile, lot's going on. We're doing final proofing of the catalogue for 'Edward Bawden', which opens at Dulwich Picture Gallery in May. Designer Lucy Morton has done a fabulous job in bringing together so many disparate works to create a beautiful book which reflects the themes and aspirations of the exhibition perfectly. Bawden loved to create worlds, from tiny gardens populated by even tinier cats to giant maps filled with comic characters; close-ups in the book allow us to look at some of these properly, and of course visitors to the exhibition will be able to explore dozens of miniature worlds in person.

Slightly more work to be done still on my second exhibition of the year. This is 'Lover, Teacher, Muse... or Rival? Nine Artist Couples' and it opens at the Royal West of England Academy in June. It's a bit early for the official announcement, but there will be work by Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell, Mary Fedden and Julian Trevelyan, the Two Roberts, Eric Ravilious and Tirzah Garwood and several others. It's partly an excuse to put lots of great pictures on the wall, but I hope it will be a thought-provoking show that gets people asking questions about the way artists influence and inspire each other, in sometimes difficult circumstances.

I'm also very busy this year compiling the catalogue raisonne of Eric Ravilious watercolours, to be published in 2019 by The Hedingham Press as 'Eric Ravilious: The Complete Watercolours'. There's lots of info about book and publisher on the website, so do have a look. We're currently calling on past and present owners of Ravilious works to come forward with any information they might have about the watercolours and their history - in the strictest confidence, of course. You can reach us via the website or at

And I'll be lecturing quite a lot over the next six months, so please look out for updates on this page. I'll add dates soon.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

20th Century Treasures at Towner

Christopher Wood, PZ 134, 1930 (Towner)

On 15 October I'll be at Towner, Eastbourne, giving a talk as part of the snazzy and up-to-the-minute Ink, Paper + Print fair. I'll be taking a personal and (I hope) entertaining look at the Towner's remarkable collection of twentieth century art - principally paintings - and I'm looking forward to it.

Thanks in part to the generosity of gallerist Lucy Wertheim, Towner has some startling Modern British works hidden away, not just paintings by Christopher Wood but also interesting and, in some cases, quite peculiar pictures by less well-known artists. There's Phelan Gibb, who was (according to Wertheim) destined to be the greatest 20th century British artist, and Bus Driver Stockley, a naive artist of the Douanier Rousseau school.

Still in a figurative vein there are pictures by Frances Hodgkins and Carel Weight (a personal favourite), but I will also be looking at some non-representational paintings - it would be rude to leave out William Gear, for one. Vanessa Bell will surely make an appearance, as will Edward Wadsworth, and we will of course include some works on paper. The aim is to spend an enjoyable forty-five minutes looking at pictures. Should be fun.

Ink, Paper + Print is at Towner, Eastbourne, on 15 October 2017. Info here