IT was in his beloved Sussex that artist Eric Ravilious created many of his most important landscape paintings – influenced by one of the most significant English artist designer networks of the 20th century.
The collaborations of Ravilious (1903-1942) and his friends are brought to life in Ravilious & Co: The Pattern of Friendship, a major exhibition at the Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne featuring more than 400 works by the group, including important but never or rarely shown works by Ravilious.
The exhibition highlights key moments in the artists’ lives and work from first meetings at the Royal College of Art to the evolution of their artistic practices into commercial and industrial design during the turbulent times of the 1930s and 1940s.
It also marks the 75th anniversary of the artist’s death in 1942 in Iceland, where he was working as a war artist. A space in the exhibition is dedicated to documenting rarely seen artworks and key artefacts illustrating the end of Ravilious’s life during the Second World War on 2 September 1942.
Eric Ravilious, Boy Birds-Nesting, 1926. Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne
Born in London, Ravilious grew up in Eastbourne, attending Eastbourne Grammar School and Eastbourne School of Art before studying at the Royal College of Art. There, he met Edward Bawden, an artist later to become an important illustrator and graphic artist, and studied under Paul Nash, a keen wood engraver.
After travelling to Florence, Siena and Tuscany, he began teaching at his old art school in Eastbourne and met his future wife, Tirzah Garwood, also an artist and engraver, with whom he would have three children.
Despite moving to Essex, he couldn’t resist the lure of the South Downs and returned frequently. By now probably the most significant wood engraver of his generation, he longed to revive the English watercolour and his moment came when his friend and college contemporary Peggy Angus invited him to stay in her South Downs cottage Furlongs. Here, she had created an interior as colourful and creative as Charleston, the East Sussex home of Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell, filling it with the works of her contemporaries that she described as “the matrix of much strange and inventive creation”.
Eric Ravilious, The Hansom Cab and Pigeons, 1935
It developed as a meeting place for artists, including Ravilious, who said it made him feel as though he had “come home to his own country” and he created many paintings there, including ‘Caravans’, depicting two old Boer War fever caravans bought by Ravilious and parked nearby, one converted into a bedroom, the other a studio from which he could enjoy the Sussex scenery.
The exhibition focuses on Ravilious and his personal and professional relationships with Tirzah Garwood, Edward Bawden, Paul Nash, Peggy Angus and other artists including John Nash, Enid Marx, Barnett Freedman, Thomas Hennell, Douglas Percy Bliss, Helen Binyon and Diana Low.
Ravilious & Co also casts a new light on the creativity of the women within the network and includes newly discovered work by Ravilious’s precociously talented wife, Tirzah Garwood, as well as watercolours, engravings and illustrations by Helen Binyon, the artist’s lover and confidante. There are also never before exhibited early wood engravings by Enid Marx, and a range of fabric, textile and wallpaper designs by Diana Low and Peggy Angus.
Ravilious, The James and the Foremost Prince, 1934. Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne
Ravilious & Co: The Pattern of Friendship Towner Art Gallery, Devonshire Park, College Road, Eastbourne
Until Sunday September 17, open Tuesday-Sunday 10am-5pm. Tickets £8/concs £7/Art Fund members £4/Towner members
Phone 01323 434670 or visit townereastbourne.org.uk
* Earlier this year, Thames & Hudson published Ravilious & Co: The Pattern of Friendship (£24.95 hardback), the first biography about the group, by the co-curator of the exhibition, Andy Friend, with an introduction by Alan Powers. Visit www.thamesandhudson.com.
Main picture: Eric Ravilious, The Carnation House, 1938. British Council Collection.