Published  14/11/2005

Design: Edward Bawden and Eric Ravilious

Design: Edward Bawden and Eric Ravilious

Brian Webb and Peyton Skipwith. Antique Collectors Club in Association with the Fry Art Gallery, 2005
ISBN 1851495002

The world of Eric Ravilious has received renewed attention in the past five years. Particularly notable, in terms of his paintings and drawings, was the exhibition and catalogue mounted by the historian, Alan Powers, in 2000 at the Imperial War Museum, London.

This small but exquisite book brings together the designs of Bawden and Ravilious, who met at the Royal College of Art in the early 1920s, under the aegis of key tutors there such as Paul Nash, Edward Johnston and Harold Stabler. Here, Ravilious focused on mural painting, while Bawden pursued book illustration. Both artists soon began experimenting with print-making. In 1927, they shared an exhibition with a further friend, Douglas Percy Bliss, at the St Georges Gallery in London. They also had a joint mural commission jointly for a work at the now famous Morley College in South London. Ironically, from this work of fantasy, they became irresistibly drawn to the English landscape. Ravilious certainly excelled in this vein. Bawden was less successful, perhaps preferring the camaraderie of groups and social individuals whom he portrayed.

Even though Ravilious died in action in World War II, it is arguable, as the book claims, that the particular design ethos that followed 'reached its zenith' with the subsequent Festival of Britain, which gave Bawden the opportunity of useful commissions. It is also arguable that Bawden and Ravilious, with their crafts orientation, deliberately stood outside the modernist/traditionalist debate. In retrospect, it could be claimed convincingly that Ravilious quietly and sympathetically embraced the tenets of a modern English culture; he offered more forcefully glimpses of popular culture, later developed by such artists as Edward Burra. Bawden, too, was complicit in 'exploiting the disciplines' of the crafts that he pursued so conscientiously.

Bawden executed over 100 book jackets, including one for Iris Murdoch's The Flight from the Enchanter (Chatto & Windus, 1956) and, earlier, for The Outsider by Albert Camus (Hamish Hamilton, 1945).

Michael Spens

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