Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Eric Ravilious: 'Halstead Road in Snow'

Eric Ravilious, Halstead Road in Snow, 1935 (private collection)


Tyre tracks disappear down a snow-covered lane, beside an elegant Georgian house, as if the people who made them were here just a moment ago. We are in Castle Hedingham, at the junction of Queen Street and Sheepcot Road – also known as Halstead Road – and snow is falling, large flakes covering the picture surface and pulling the eye this way and that. Ravilious was fascinated by winter, relishing the light and colours peculiar to the season, and on this occasion he hurried over breakfast so as not to miss a morning snow shower, starting a drawing outside and then finishing it in his studio.

‘Scratching the spots all over the drawing later with a penknife was a change,’ he wrote to Helen Binyon, ‘And I enjoyed it. I have in mind a series of drawings of houses in this village because in Winter they are such a lovely colour.’

He was fortunate to live in a village with many fine buildings, some dating back to the 15th century. Sheepcot House, which can be seen behind the tree in this painting, was built during Shakespeare’s lifetime, and was the birthplace in 1682 of naturalist Mark Catesby. He became later in life a distinguished painter, so much so that his painting 'A blue grosbeak (passerina caerulea) and sweet bay (Magnolia virginiana)' was included in Tate Britain’s 2011 exhibition Watercolour, in which ‘The Vale of the White Horse’ by Eric Ravilious also featured.

Today the horse chestnut tree still stands on Chapel Green, as the patch of grass at the junction is known, but the lanes are not so quiet. The tracks shown here – loose, flowing lines in contrast to the hard geometry of the buildings - were made by bicycles and prams, and they remind us that pre-war Castle Hedingham was a predominantly pedestrian settlement. Local shops catered to most needs, while coal, bread and milk were delivered. On one occasion Ravilious wrote,

‘The milkman made me laugh today. We write up any money owing on the side of the door, and I asked if we owed tenpence. He put his head in and said, “Yes, the writing’s on the wall.”’

And then there was the postman, on whom Ravilious relied almost totally for communication with the world outside the village. With telephones still comparatively rare and unreliable, all arrangements, commissions and payments were made by post, and waiting for the postman was a national pastime.

‘I woke up with a feeling that I wouldn’t sleep any more and might as well get up,’ Ravilious reported one winter morning, ‘And saw the aged postman down the street. He took his time of course – he has a zigzag course and a shuffle that has all time before it – and until each letter has been looked at carefully with a lamp you don’t get it.’

This is an excerpt from 'Ravilious in Pictures: A Country Life', published by The Mainstone Press

9 comments:

Peter Ashley said...

Oh God I just love this picture. Thank you for reminding me of it. We've had snow here briefly, and as it slowly disappeared from the pastures and woods I recalled John Nash's pictures of receding snow in Essex.

Coline said...

How could it have come to pass that we have lived long enough to an age which has uninvented something as wonderful as the post!?

Jill Tattersall said...

I love this painting! My parents lived nearby in Sible H. Was it you I spoke to at the Fry Gallery, minding the Bardfield Artists exhibition? (My parents were good friends of John Aldridge.) Just to say how much I enjoyed the Dulwich show; I also saw the Peggy Angus at the Towner, which was an education and a pleasure. (By a twist of fate it seems I narrowly missed being taught by her!) And have just seen the Aberdeen Raviliouses in the R room at the Towner. Wonderful. Thank you.

James Russell said...

Thanks for your comments - Peter, good to hear from you and hope things are going well - Coline, I agree! Research in the future will never be so much fun... - Jill, not me at the Fry but glad you enjoyed Peggy and the Dulwich show, perhaps we'll run into one another sometime!

Anonymous said...

What a coincidence, we bought Xmas cards from Ben Pentreath in Holborn with this very scene only 3 days ago and thought it was very evocative, as well as being local. We live in the tiny hamlet of Walthams Cross, near Great Bardfield, and wondered where this house was. We often go to Castle Hedingham/Halstead and will look out for it next time.

Fiona Flores Watson said...

I also love this house, as it is where I grew up. It's more white and blue now. Very sad to have missed your Ravilious show at the Dulwich Picture Gallery this summer, but will getting the Country Life 3 book.

James Russell said...

Thanks for your comments - always interesting to hear from people who know locations well. Fiona, I hope you enjoy 'Ravilious in Pictures: A Country Life' - quite a lot of Castle Hedingham in the 30s...

Fiona Flores Watson said...

I was christened and married in the village, had my wedding reception in the Bell. My parents have lived there since the 1960s. So I will love seeing more of Hedingham as depicted by Ravilious!

northoneartist.com said...

A favourite of mine too - brought up in Essex my parents took me to a couple of the famous Bardfield Open Days in the 1950's - even at that young age I loved being in houses full of interesting things & paintings. Later at Colchester Art School Edward Bawden & John Nash were among the locals artists who came one or two days a week to teach us - how fortunate we were!

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