|Tirzah Ravilious, The Old Soldier, 1940|
If Eric was neglected by the art world in the decades after his death, Tirzah was doubly so, and she remains a little-known figure. Accounts of her husband's life tend to portray her as 'the wife', faithful in spite of his infidelities, and rather dull - the sensible woman who prefered not to swim naked in the River Pant with her husband and various Bardfield visitors. For excitement (we imagine, from this reading) he ran off to the Sussex Downs with Helen Binyon, and at her side produced some of his most memorable watercolours.
|Eric Ravilious, Train Landscape, 1939|
Having embarked on her own career as a wood engraver in the late 1920s she gave this up to raise her children, at the same time supporting Eric in his work. The extent of her influence may never be known but in one important instance - the well-known painting 'Train Landscape' - she worked on the picture itself, pasting a white horse over the Wilmington Giant. Earlier she had been, in the most straightforward sense, her husband's muse, and her figure appeared repeatedly in the murals he painted at Morley College... They shared many interests - in mechanical toys and old-fashioned shops, and in the landscape of the Sussex Downs.
|Tirzah Ravilious, landscape, 1944|
I enjoyed the presenter's remark that she had 'taken her husband's view of landscape' and altered it, evidently unaware that this was both condescending and inaccurate. Tirzah had already demonstrated in her wood engravings (which she made under her maiden name), that she was her own woman, following creative impulses that were quite different from her husband's and using her own techniques too. This oil painting - I haven't found out yet what it's called - is all her own, but alludes in its subject matter to her late husband's fascination for trains in landscape.
Anne Ullmann, the couple's daughter, has been unstinting in her efforts to win proper recognition for their work, and she has been working for some time on an edition of her mother's diaries. Judging by the extracts published in the Fleece Press editions of Eric's letters, they should make entertaining and occasionally eye-opening reading. In the meantime, I recommend Olive Cook's excellent essay on Tirzah's life and work, and this survey of her wood engravings.