|Eric Ravilious, Waterwheel, 1938, painted at Capel-y-Ffin, Wales; described by ER as 'a bit Chinese'|
|Currier and Ives, Champions of the Mississippi, 1866 lithograph: a similar print hung above ER's mantlepiece|
Was that vision particularly English? There are paintings on view at Dulwich Picture Gallery which were created in Scotland, Wales, France and Norway, as well as England, but Ravilious was perhaps most inspired by the South Downs. The simplicity of the landscape, the chalky soil and the pale light appealed to him; horses and giants carved into the chalk resembled wood engravings, and so were perhaps more attractive still.
|Georges Seurat, The Channel of Gravelines, 1890 oil, Indianapolis Museum of Art|
Ravilious had plans at different times to visit the United States, Greenland and Russia, among other places. Had he survived the war perhaps he would have beaten David Hockney to California. His favourite book, after all, was 'Huckleberry Finn'.
|Hokusai, Ocean Waves, c1830|
|Eric Ravilious, Storm, 1941, British Council|
“Aesthetics is more interesting than history. I wonder sometimes if people who are taught art history were asked to describe pictures, rather than put them in various sociological or historical settings of influence, how much they could say that would make somebody else see more in them. Does the quality of appreciation somehow atrophy when they assume that everything is part of a general story, rather than the general story being a vast mass of the mediocre and a few really great pictures which make the whole activity worthwhile, and which have a curious fellowship throughout the ages? Finally what matters is whether the picture works, and that could be Giotto or Fragonard or Monet, and finally the criteria as to why it works are the same. In a way I think of a Cézanne and a Giotto being closer to each other than a Cézanne and a Pissarro.”
So we can discuss Ravilious in all sorts of ways, and reach all manner of conclusions. But in the end it's the pictures that matter.
Frank Auerbach: Speaking and Painting by Catherine Lampert is published by Thames & Hudson on 25 May, priced £19.95. The exhibition will be at Tate Britain, London, SW1P from 9 October. tate.org.uk.
Ravilious continues at Dulwich Picture Gallery until August 31. I'm doing a series of three talks at Dulwich, starting this week (info in sidebar, over that way -->)