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

Bawden! Bawden! Bawden!

Edward Bawden, Brighton Pier, 1958, (detail) Linocut on paper, Trustees of the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery (The Higgins Bedford), © Estate of Edward Bawden
So here is my excuse for not posting in months...

Major Edward Bawden show to bring unseen works into the spotlight

23 May - 9 September 2018

In summer 2018 Dulwich Picture Gallery will present a major retrospective of work by the celebrated British artist and designer, Edward Bawden RA CBE (1903-89). It will be the first national museum show since his death and the most wide-ranging to date, including a number of previously unseen works from the family’s private collection.

Widely respected as an innovative graphic designer, book illustrator and printmaker, Edward Bawden is best known today for his monumental linocuts and for the witty designs he made for companies like Shell and Fortnum & Mason. Meanwhile his achievements as a fine artist have been largely forgotten. Along with Paul Nash and Eric Ravilious, Bawden reinvented watercolour for the 20th century, and a central aim of this exhibition is to bring this work back into public view.

Featuring 170 works, half of them from private collections, this exhibition will explore every aspect of Bawden’s 60-year career, revealing his humour, skill and versatility. He refused to see a distinction between fine art and commercial design, and in this spirit the works will be arranged thematically to follow the evolution in his style and the constant creative dialogue between media and disciplines. Highlights include a display of Bawden’s rarely-seen war portraits, as well as archive material such as his personal blotter, on loan for the first time.

Bawden took a tremendous delight in observing the world ‘off duty’, and the exhibition will open with a wide-ranging display of works devoted to leisure and pleasure. These include a large map of Scarborough decorated with holidaymakers and mermaids, watercolours of Newhaven and Baghdad, and posters advertising films and London sights.

The exhibition will go on to showcase watercolours, engraving and linocuts on the theme of plants and gardens, including an unfinished textile design, on display for the first time. Throughout the exhibition, preparatory studies, drawings and illustrated letters will be displayed - rarely exhibited these will add a colourful personal dimension so the show whilst offering insights into Bawden’s creative mind.

Other rooms will reflect Bawden’s fascination with places and architecture, with watercolours and linocuts depicting Essex churches and Ethiopian palaces. As an official war artist Bawden spent the years 1940-45 travelling around North Africa, the Middle East and Europe, and alongside paintings of the places he visited he created a remarkable series of portraits, around twenty of which will be exhibited in the show. Up to this point Bawden’s depictions of the human figure were rarely bigger than a matchbox, but now he successfully battled his own feelings of inadequacy as an artist to produce some of the most compelling artworks of the conflict. Iraqi Jews, Kurds and Marsh Arabs will take their place, alongside servicemen of different African nations, revealing the range of people Bawden encountered and his warm treatment of all.

The exhibition will culminate with an exploration of Bawden’s lifelong love of storytelling. One wall will be covered in original drawings, almost all from private collections, that span every decade from the 1920s to the 1980s. Another will feature studies for some of Bawden’s best-loved murals, while the last works focus on creatures real and imaginary, including several linocuts from his much-loved series, Aesop’s Fables. Highlights include designs for Fortnum & Mason and Twinings, alongside fanciful illustrated books created by Bawden for his children.

Edward Bawden will be curated by James Russell, who curated Eric Ravilious at Dulwich Picture Gallery in 2015. He is the author of The Lost Watercolours of Edward Bawden (Mainstone Press), a study of Bawden’s 1930s paintings, as well as titles devoted to Eric Ravilious and other artists of the period. Speaking of the show, he said:

"This exhibition celebrates Bawden's many achievements across all the disciplines he mastered, while also offering visitors an intimate portrait of the artist through studies, drawings and illustrated letters. Bawden's unrivalled skill as a designer, irrepressible sense of humour and profound feeling for place will flow through the exhibition, offering visitors a varied, entertaining and sometimes moving experience.”

Loans have been secured from a number of private collections, as well as a wide range of institutions including the Imperial War Museum, the Manchester Art Gallery, the Fry Art Gallery and the major lender, the Cecil Higgins Collection, Bedford, home of the Edward Bawden archive. An extensive full colour catalogue will accompany the exhibition.