Artists That Inspire

Edward Bawden

Edward Bawden, CBE RA (10 March 1903 – 21 November 1989) was an English painter, illustrator and graphic artist, known for his prints, book covers, posters, and garden metalwork furniture. Bawden taught at the Royal College of Art, where he had been a student, worked as a commercial artist and served as a war artist in World War II. He was a fine watercolour painter but worked in many different media. He illustrated several books and painted murals in both the 1930s and 1960s. He was admired by Edward Gorey, David Gentleman and other graphic artists, and his work and career is often associated with that of his contemporary Eric Ravilious.

A solitary child, he spent much time drawing or wandering with butterfly-net and microscope. At the age of seven he was enrolled at Braintree High School, and began studying or copying drawings of cats by Louis Wain, illustrations in boys’ and girls’ magazines, and Burne Jones’s illustrations of Malory’s Morte d’Arthur. Later his parents paid for him to attend the Friends’ School at Saffron Walden, and there, when he was fifteen, the headmaster recommended him to study for one day a week at Cambridge School of Art.

Upon leaving school in 1919, he attended Cambridge School of Art full-time from 1919 to 1921. There he became interested in calligraphy and in the work of Aubrey Beardsley, Richard Doyle, William Morris and other Victorians. This was followed in 1922 by a scholarship to the Royal College of Art School of Design in London, where he took a diploma in illustration until 1925. Here he met his fellow student and future collaborator Eric Ravilious; the pair were described by their teacher Paul Nash as “an extraordinary outbreak of talent”.

By 1930, Bawden was working one day a week for the Curwen Press, as was Ravilious and their former tutor, Nash, producing illustrations for leading companies at the time such as London Transport, Westminster Bank, Twinings, Poole Potteries, Shell-Mex, the Folio Society, Chatto & Windus, and Penguin Books. In the early 1930s he was discovered by the Stuart Advertising Agency, owned by H. Stuart Menzies and Marcus Brumwell. Around this time Bawden produced some of his most humorous and innovative work for Fortnum & Mason and Imperial Airways. He also worked for The Listener.

In 1938, Bawden collaborated with John Aldridge, on a range of wallpapers that they intended to be printed commercially, but from lino blocks handcut by the designers. The project left little other time for other work during the year, and war intervened before the papers could go into production.

During the Second World War Bawden served as an official war artist, first with the British army in France and then, following the army’s evacuation from there, in the Middle East. Bawden painted landscapes and portraits in Libya, Sudan, Cairo, Eritrea and Ethiopia, reaching Addis Ababa in May 1941. At the start of 1942 he travelled with Anthony Gross to Palestine and Lebanon. After the Laconia was torpedoed and sunk, on 12 September 1942, he spent five days in an open lifeboat before being rescued by a French ship, the Gloire. He was held prisoner in a Vichy internment camp in Casablanca for two months before the camp was liberated by American troops. Bawden returned to England in 1944 and for a short while, painted at Southampton docks before he went to Ravenna, then Greece, Austria and Florence before travelling back to England in July 1945.

Bawden lived in Great Bardfield, Essex from the 1930s to 1970. While living at Bardfield he was an important member of the Great Bardfield Artists. This group of local artists were diverse in style but shared a love for figurative art, making the group distinct from the better known St Ives art community in Cornwall , who, after the war, were chiefly dominated by abstractionists.

During the 1950s, the Great Bardfield Artists organised a series of large ‘open house’ exhibitions which attracted national press attention. Positive reviews and the novelty of viewing art works in the artists’ own homes (including Bawden’s Brick House) led to thousands visiting the remote village during the summer exhibitions of 1954, 1955, and 1958. As well as these shows, the Great Bardfield Artists held several touring exhibitions of their work in 1957, 1958, and 1959.

After the death of his wife in 1970, Bawden moved to the nearby town of Saffron Walden, where he continued to work until his death at home on 21 November 1989.