Artists That Inspire

Eric Ravilious

#EdwardBawden and #EricRavilious were both popular illustrators in the first half of the twentieth century. They were contemporaries at the #RoyalCollegeofArt and studied under #PaulNash. Both were War Artists and both were part of the #BarfieldGroup of artists and great friends.

The principal artists who lived there between 1930 and 1970 were John Aldridge RA, Edward Bawden, George Chapman, Stanley Clifford-Smith, Audrey Cruddas, Walter Hoyle, Eric Ravilious, Sheila Robinson, Michael Rothenstein, Kenneth Rowntree and Marianne Straub. Other artists associated with the group include Duffy Ayers, John Bolam, Bernard Cheese, Tirzah Garwood, Joan Glass, David Low and Laurence Scarfe.

Eric William Ravilious (22 July 1903 – 2 September 1942) was a British painter, designer, book illustrator and wood-engraver. He grew up in Sussex, and is particularly known for his watercolours of the South Downs and other English landscapes, which examine English landscape and vernacular art with an off-kilter, modernist sensibility and clarity. He served as a war artist, and died when the aircraft he was in was lost off Iceland.

Ravilious engraved more than 400 illustrations and drew over 40 lithographic designs for books and publications during his lifetime. His first commission, in 1926, was to illustrate a novel for Jonathan Cape. He went on to produce work both for large companies such as the Lanston Corporation and smaller, less commercial publishers, such as the Golden Cockerel Press (for whom he illustrated an edition of Twelfth Night), the Curwen Press and the Cresset Press.

His style of wood-engraving was greatly influenced by that of Thomas Bewick, whom both he and Bawden admired. Ravilious in turn influenced other wood engravers, such as Gwenda Morgan who also depicted scenes in the South Downs and was commissioned by the Golden Cockerel Press.

In the mid-1930s Ravilious took up lithography, making a print of Newhaven Harbour for the “Contemporary Lithographs” scheme, and a set of full-page lithographs, mostly of shop interiors, for a book called High Street, with text by J. M. Richards. Following a trip in a submarine in the war he produced a series of lithographs on Submarines, a set of 12.

Production of Ravilious’ designs continued into the 1950s, with the coronation mug design being posthumously reworked for the coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953. He also undertook glass designs for Stuart Crystal in 1934, graphic advertisements for London Transport and furniture work for Dunbar Hay in 1936.

Ravilious and Bawden were both active in the campaign by the Artists’ International Association to support the Republican cause in the Spanish Civil War. Throughout 1938 and 1939, Ravilious spent time working in Wales, the south of France and at Aldeburgh to prepare works for his third one-man show, which was held at the Arthur Tooth & Sons Gallery in 1939.

Apart from a brief experimentation with oils in 1930 – inspired by the works of Johan Zoffany – Ravilious painted almost entirely in watercolour. He was especially inspired by the landscape of the South Downs around Beddingham. He frequently returned to Furlongs, the cottage of Peggy Angus. He said that his time there “altered my whole outlook and way of painting, I think because the colour of the landscape was so lovely and the design so beautifully obvious … that I simply had to abandon my tinted drawings”.

Prior to the outbreak of WWII Ravilious aligned himself with anti-fascist causes, including lending his work to the 1937 exhibition Artists Against Fascism. He considered joining the military as a rifleman but was deterred by friends; he joined a Royal Observer Corps post in Hedingham at the outbreak of war. He was then accepted as a full-time salaried artist by the War Artists’ Advisory Committee in December 1939. He was given the rank of Honorary Captain in the Royal Marines and assigned to the Admiralty.

In February 1940, he reported to the Royal Naval barracks at Chatham Dockyard. While based there he painted ships at the dockside, barrage balloons at Sheerness and other coastal defences. On 24 May 1940 Ravilious sailed to Norway aboard HMS Highlander which was escorting HMS Glorious and the force being sent to recapture Narvik. Highlander returned to Scapa Flow before departing for Norway a second time on 31 May 1940. From the deck of Highlander, Ravilious painted scenes of both HMS Ark Royal and HMS Glorious in action.

In early 1942, Ravilious was posted to York but shortly afterwards was allowed to return home to Shalford when his wife was taken ill. There he worked on his York paintings and requested a posting to a nearby RAF base while Garwood recovered. He spent a short time at RAF Debden before moving to RAF Sawbridgeworth in Hertfordshire. At Sawbridgeworth he began flying regularly in the de Havilland Tiger Moths based at the flying school there and would sketch other planes in flight from the rear cockpit of the plane.

On 28 August 1942 Ravilious flew to Reykjavík in Iceland and then travelled on to RAF Kaldadarnes. The day he arrived there, 1 September, a Lockheed Hudson aircraft had failed to return from a patrol. The next morning three aircraft were despatched at dawn to search for the missing plane and Ravilious opted to join one of the crews. The aircraft he was on also failed to return and after four days of further searching, the RAF declared Ravilious and the four-man crew lost in action.