Saturday, 12 May 2018

Edward Bawden at the All Saints Arts Festival

Edward Bawden, The Showboat at Baghdad, 1944
Quick diary date... on 25 May I'm giving my lecture 'Edward Bawden: Artist & Adventurer' at the inaugural All Saints Festival in Maldon, Essex. Is that where the sea salt comes from? I expect I'll find out. Anyway, if you're in the area and want to come along you will just have time to whizz to Dulwich Picture Gallery and see the Bawden exhibition (opens 23 May) beforehand. Or you could go along in a more leisurely manner afterwards...

Other Bawden-related events in the Upcoming Lectures over here >>>>

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Are You Sitting Comfortably?

A bug's life... photo by Tim Mainstone

Out very soon from the Mainstone Press, 'Are You Sitting Comfortably?' will take armchair travellers on an extraordinary journey. Edward Bawden grew up wanting to illustrate books, and for sixty years or more he did just that, not only creating designs for dozens of book jackets but also providing sets of illustrations for a remarkable array of titles. Writing the captions for this encyclopaedic volume has been a fascinating (if occasionally Herculean) task. Bawden illustrated literary classics, family favourites and a host of books that I'd never heard of before.

Being Bawden, he treated every job - whether for a railway company or a major international publisher - with the same care and consideration. He spent far too long on his designs for them to be commercially lucrative, but then he was only partly motivated by financial necessity. Chiefly he did this work because he loved it. He was a problem solver and an inventor, and he approached each project with relish. His research was always impeccable, and his designs both novel and apt.

One or two of the books are back in print these days. Some are easily bought. A few of the rarer titles will be on display at Dulwich Picture Gallery next month. In the meantime, 'Are You Sitting Comfortably? The Book Jackets of Edward Bawden' will be available within a matter of days...


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.