In Search of Ravilious

Eric Ravilious (1903–1942) is acknowledged today as a water­colourist of rare talent. Indeed, he has become over the last decade one of the most widely admired British artists of the 20th century. To celebrate the remark­able achieve­ments of an artist who died serving his country at the age of 39, we are preparing the catalogue raisonné of his water­colours. We aim to find, catalogue and reproduce in colour every Ravilious water­colour, with wide-ranging notes and an exten­sive introduc­tory essay that will offer new insights into the life and career of this fascinat­ing artist. Eric Ravilious: The Complete Water­colours will be published in 2019 by the Hedingham Press, with the full support of the artist’s estate.

If you have information about Ravilious or his work that you would like to share with us, please don’t hesitate to contact us at raviliouscatalogue@gmail.com. All enquiries will be treated in the strictest confidence.

The Hedingham Press

The Hedingham Press is a new private press establ­ished in 2017 by James Russell, Robert Dalrymple and Gordon Cooke, for the specific purpose of pub­lish­ing this book.

James Russell curated the block­buster 2015 exhibition Ravilious at Dulwich Picture Gallery. An independ­ent art historian specialising in 20th century British art and design, he has written several previous books on the artist, including the four-volume series Ravilious in Pictures.

Robert Dalrymple is a book designer based in Edinburgh. He has designed publications for most of the major museums and galleries in the UK. In 1986 he published Ravilious and Wedgwood: The Complete Wedgwood Designs of Eric Ravilious, which remains in print after more than thirty years.

A director of The Fine Art Society, Gordon Cooke first worked with the heirs of Eric Ravilious 35 years ago and has developed an intimate knowledge of the artist and his work. He was a director of the art book publisher Robin Garton Ltd and has compiled many exhibition catalogues.

Eric Ravilious 1903–1942

In a career cut agonisingly short when he was lost off the coast of Iceland while serving as an official war artist, Eric Ravilious (1903–42) achieved renown as a wood engraver and designer for industry, but his greatest ambition was, as he confided to a student in the 1920s, to revive the English watercolour tradition.

An excellent draughtsman even as a child, and in his late teens a student of Alfred Rich’s primer Watercolour Painting (1918), Ravilious had the good fortune to be taught by Paul Nash, who was briefly a tutor at the Design School of the Royal College of Art (1924–5). Nash was one of the leading lights in a renaissance of watercolour painting that inspired talents as diverse as Edward Burra, Frances Hodgkins and David Jones, and he willingly shared with Ravilious his tricks and techniques. In 1927 Ravilious showed watercolours, alongside those of fellow Royal College graduates Edward Bawden and Douglas Percy Bliss, at Arthur Howell’s St George Gallery, but it was in the early 1930s, when he lived and worked with Bawden at Brick House, Great Bardfield, that his vision began properly to form.

His first solo exhibition was held in November 1933, at the fashionable Zwemmer Gallery on Charing Cross Road, and showed a young artist trying out a range of styles, from carefully tinted drawings to watercolours painted with relative freedom and a bold palette. Here and there, though, were works that had something more about them, an indefinable, mesmerizing quality. Six years later Eric Newton of The Observer reviewed Ravilious’s third solo show, and struggled to describe what he felt on seeing the work; the watercolours were, he wrote, ‘almost untranslatable’. By now Ravilious was a master of his craft, with an array of watercolour techniques at his command and the ability, through careful design, to bring the most ordinary scene or object to life.

Along with Bawden, he was one of the first war artists to be appointed during the winter of 1939/40. Freed from the need to make a living as a designer, Ravilious threw himself into his work, producing for the Admiralty and then the Air Ministry almost as many watercolours as he had painted in his career to date. His playfulness did not diminish, and neither did his willingness to experiment; indeed, it was his determination to try and capture the experience of flight that led him to his downfall on an RAF search and rescue mission in September 1942.

Eric Ravilious: The Complete Watercolours

Although Ravilious's loss was keenly felt by all who knew him, it was some time before the artistic cost of his untimely death was properly appreciated. In the tumultuous post-war decades, the art world turned away from the lyrical and mysterious; there were Ravilious exhibitions in 1958 and 1972, but it was probably in the 1980s that the tide began to turn. In 2003 an impressive centenary exhibition at the Imperial War Museum was warmly received and since then Ravilious has moved steadily in from the margins to take a central place in histories of 20th century British art. This is thanks in good measure to his daughter Anne Ullmann and other researchers, who have tracked down a remarkable number of watercolours.

Our job now is to find those that remain unaccounted for, to catalogue properly the whole body of work, and to put together a book that will serve both as a visual and documentary record and as a celebration of an illustrious career. We welcome any information that you feel would add to our understanding of Ravilious and his work; please contact us, in strictest confidence, at raviliouscatalogue@gmail.com.

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