Tuesday, 29 November 2022

Paul Nash's English Pyramids


If you're an admirer of Paul Nash then this new book may already be on your radar, but I would also recommend it to people who don't know much about the debonair but sometimes challenging British artist. Pyramids in England has the two main characteristics of a good art book: a wide range of images that are excellently reproduced; and just the right amount of brisk, readable text.

The author has managed a website dedicated to Nash and his pyramids, ie the Wittenham Clumps, for some years. I thought the book might be a bit Clump-centric, but though the twin hills south of Oxford certainly loom large there is more than enough added material about Nash's life and work to make it compelling reading. Some of the photos were new to me. In one, the character of his wife Margaret (nee Odeh) shines through. In another, we see Nash among his extended family, a sturdy English group who must have found his career quite baffling.

Anyway, enough from me. If you have a lover of Modern British art in your life, you really should buy them this for Christmas.

You can buy the book at good bookshops, like this one.


Tuesday, 15 November 2022

Ravilious Pilot Boat up for auction!

Eric Ravilious, Pilot Boat, 1939

Having spent some time in a private collection in the United States, Pilot Boat is back in the UK and up for auction at Sotheby's. I'm not sure I've ever seen this watercolour in person so I'm looking forward to visiting on Sunday, when I join Frances Christie and Simon Martin for a panel discussion about Place in Modern British Art (see previous post for details).

A few years ago I wrote the following to accompany the illustration of Pilot Boat in Ravilious in Pictures: A Travelling Artist. As usual Tim Mainstone and I spent a long time pondering which works to include in the book - a process you certainly wouldn't describe as painful - eventually picking this one as an atmospheric depiction of a French Channel port on the eve of war. In many instances we can revisit the sites of Ravilious watercolours and find them unchanged, but not in this case...

If Ravilious painted an interior scene on a painting trip you can be sure that the weather made working outdoors impossible. Le Havre was so cold he could only work outside for short periods, so it was as well that he had picked a hotel in such a good location, just 100 yards from the Quai George V. He was first captivated by the sleek lines and yellow masts of a steam yacht belonging to the Rothschild family - ‘the most elegant boat I ever saw’ - but, as he reported, ‘there are splendid boats wherever you go, and striped and red buoys and a special green water, a grassy green’. 

Ordinary people were fascinated to see an artist at work but, with the French newspapers dominated by discussion of the imminent conflict, Ravilious was treated with suspicion by officials who perhaps took him for a spy. ‘A gendarme questioned me closely,’ he reported on one occasion, ‘but retired beaten by my Pigeon French.’ Within a year Ravilious would be questioned far more aggressively by armed British servicemen as he drew port scenes in his capacity of war artist.

For the people of Le Havre the anticipated Nazi invasion was swift. On June 13 1940, as thousands of Allied troops evacuated by sea, German forces entered the city, where they remained in occupation for the next four years. During this time the garrison turned France’s second largest port into a massive fortress, and this spelled disaster for the city when Allied forces landed in Normandy in June 1944. Beginning on 5th September RAF bombers and naval guns blasted the city, reducing the centre to rubble and filling the waterways with wrecks. The port Edward Wadsworth had known for 30 years, and which he described in correspondence with Ravilious as ‘a real gold mine of matter’, was destroyed.

The return of peace brought to Le Havre the renowned architect and town planner Auguste Perret, who set about building a new city over the ruins of the old, using modern materials with panache in a 20-year project of unparalleled ambition. Indeed, it has been recognised as such by UNESCO, which in 2005 designated the rebuilt port a World Heritage Site. As a reminder of the old port we have this painting, almost a winter version of Seurat’s luminous harbour scenes, with a similar spaciousness and even the same mooring posts. In the low sunlight the clean lines of the pilot boat stand out against a background that seems almost on the point of melting away, with ghostly figures dimly perceptible on the far side of the water the only sign of life. 

A fine marine study, the painting is also filled with foreboding; ‘I shall be surprised,’ he wrote on returning home, ‘If there isn’t a war by the middle of May and drawing and all other sensible things fade into the background, though Tooth’s assure me their business will carry on as usual.’

This is an extract from Ravilious in Pictures: A Travelling Artist (Mainstone Press)

Pilot Boat is Lot 12 in Sotheby's auction of Modern British & Irish Art, which will be held on 23 November. You can view the lots between 18-23 Nov. 

I'll be talking about Place in Modern British Art with Frances Christie and Simon Martin at 1pm on Sunday 20 Nov.

Friday, 11 November 2022

Talking Books: Revisiting Modern British Art


This time last year I was busy writing the introductory essay for a remarkable book. Revisiting Modern British Art is not a traditional art history book, being neither a historical survey nor a study of a particular artist or group. Rather, as the title suggests, it is a book which revisits a familiar period and seeks to understand it differently. Each of the writers brings their own expertise and experience, individual qualities they use to explore the subject in new and fascinating ways. The effect is kaleidoscopic and inspiring in a way few art books are. 

Editor Jo Baring (of the Ingram Collection) has brought together an eclectic group of writers, each of whom approaches the subject of modern British art in a different way. So we have Alexandra Harris on artistic responses to World War One, Laura Smith discussing British Surrealism, Simon Martin exploring Queer Pastoral in the 1940s, Laura Freeman on art and the domestic in World War Two, Harriet Baker discussing women artists in St Ives; James Rawlin on British sculpture in the 1950s and Elena Crippa exploring the diverses uses of collage by artists in 1960s London.

This first group are clustered into a section subtitled Moments, which is followed by Structures. While James Purdon examines the role of corporate and public patronage in modern British art, Jo Baring explores the part played by curators and collectors. Hammad Nasar asks searching questions about artistic Britishness, Natalie Rudd teases out relationships between contemporary artists and their predecessors and Aindrea Emelife makes a personal call for a more expansive British art.

This is definitely a book to have on the bedside table and dip into repeatedly, not least because it is so beautifully illustrated. Anyone who has ever produced an art book will know that the cost of images can be prohibitive. Well, no expense has been spared here, and the pictures are every bit as lively and eclectic as the text.

Over the next few weeks Jo will be presiding over a series of events, in which she will discuss the book with a number of her fellow contributors. You can find info about all of these on the Ingram Collection website

I'll be at Sotheby's in London on Sunday 20 November, discussing A Sense of Place in Modern British Art with Simon Martin and Frances Christie. Then, on Friday 25 November, I'll be joining Jo Baring and Sara Cooper at Towner, Eastbourne. We'll be going Behind the Scenes of the Museum, which sounds intriguing - I do love a museum store!

You can find info and tickets for these events via the links above - hope to see you there!


Sunday, 18 September 2022

New Exhibition: Changing Times at The Higgins Bedford!


From Eric Ravilious, Edward Bawden and Paul Nash to Elisabeth Frink, David Hockney and Lucian Freud some of the biggest names in British art are coming together in a vibrant, wide-ranging exhibition at The Higgins Bedford that explores the history of British art of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Changing Times: A Century of Modern British Art brings together more than 80 works from the Ingram Collection of Modern British and Contemporary Art and The Higgins’ own collection, with paintings, works on paper and sculpture from some of the biggest names in British art. From The Higgins also come a dozen works on paper by major European artists.

Changing Times: A Century of Modern British Art will be the first large-scale exhibition since the reopening of The Higgins, and is supported by The Friends of The Higgins Bedford.

Among the highlights are several powerful monumental sculptures, including Riace Figure (1986) and Walking Madonna (1981) by Elisabeth Frink, and Ralph Brown’s Meat Porters (1959). There are lithographs by Eric Ravilious from his High Street series and a pair of his watercolours, Observation Post (1939) and Rye Harbour (1938). Lucien Freud’s stunning 1945 drawing Botanical Gardens hangs alongside works John Craxton’s exquisite Yellow Estuary Landscape (1943).

A Cezanne lithograph, Large Bathers (1896), introduces a section devoted to figures in the landscape, which includes Edward Burra’s Hop Pickers Who’ve Lost Their Mothers (1924), John Minton’s Hop Pickers (1945), the early Paul Nash watercolour Fruit Pickers (1916) and The Bathing Pool (1923) by Ethel Walker, a highly regarded interwar artist who deserves to be better known. The same is true of Frances Hodgkins, whose work is also featured in Changing Times.

Another section explores the artist’s self-portrait, with David Hockney’s tongue-in-cheek etching Artist and Model alongside works by Kathe Kollwitz, William Roberts, John Bratby and John Bellany. Elsewhere the emphasis is on experiment and play, with Mark Gertler’s eerie still life The Doll (1914) and a lithograph from Marc Chagall’s Arabian Nights (1948) suite. Hockney prints depicting water can be seen alongside Howard Hodgkin’s colourful etching of Hockney’s swimming pool. Bold colour abounds in works by Sybil Andrews, Sonia Delaunay and Victor Pasmore, to name a few.

Changing Times is curated by James Russell, whose previous exhibitions include Ravilious (2015) and Edward Bawden (2018), both at Dulwich Picture Gallery.

James says, “What a pleasure it has been to explore these two sensational collections, teasing out themes and points of connection. Visitors will see works by dozens of artists, from household names to the brilliant-but neglected. They will be able to trace patterns of development and influence through the last hundred years of British art, or simply revel in an array of artworks that are by turns colourful, mysterious, thoughtful and fun.”

The exhibition is accompanied by a major new book - Revisiting Modern British Art, published in association with The Ingram Collection and edited by Jo Baring (Director, The Ingram Collection). In this wide-ranging and thought-provoking publication, published in October by Lund Humphries, experts in their field, including Changing Times curator James Russell, address specific aspects of British art of the 20th-century. Complemented by a range of striking images, this publication succeeds in showing the strength of the British artistic tradition while also encouraging the reader to rethink and explore the existing narrative.

Changing Times is at The Higgins Bedford, from 15 Oct 2022 until 16 April 2023 - follow link for info!


Monday, 1 August 2022

Seafaring: the Movie!

Well it's less than a minute long, but I think this is a great introduction to my exhibition Seafaring, which runs at Hastings Contemporary until the autumn. Made by Ali Jassim - who can find on Instagram as @just_jassim - the film follows two young visitors as they tour the exhibition, stopping to look at an array of works by artists such as Cecily Brown, Eric Ravilious and Maggi Hambling.

Seafaring runs until 25 September: you can find out all about the show here.

Saturday, 2 July 2022

Eric Ravilious: Drawn to War - Director Margy Kinmonth in Conversation!


I'm very much looking forward to discussing 'Eric Ravilious: Drawn to War' with the film's director Margy Kinmonth, on Weds 6 July. Since we've talked about the film a lot over the past few years we thought it would be fun to have a fairly informal chat about the making of the film, with some behind-the-scenes pictures and discussion of our favourite Ravilious works. 

We're actually doing a live Q&A at the Watershed in Bristol, but I think that has already sold out. In fact this is happening a lot with Margy's live appearances, so all the more reason for an online event.

So if you've seen the film and have a question for the director, or you want to find out more before booking your ticket, do join us. The event will be on zoom, with a recording available for a week afterwards. Info and tickets via Eventbrite. Hope to see you there!

Sunday, 19 June 2022


Eric Ravilious, Submarine Commander Looking Through a Periscope, lithograph, 1940-41

I'm sure you've had the experience of watching the film version of a novel you love... and wishing you hadn't. It took me years to see The English Patient, so powerful was my own impression of the story, and I've still never seen The Great Gatsby on screen. I don't know if there's a film of Ulysses or To the Lighthouse out there, but if there is I would sell the telly to avoid watching them. On-screen voices and images tend to overwhelm our own more fragile, imagined versions of character and setting, which in some instances are as precious as real memories.

Having spent much of the last fifteen years building up my own impressions of Eric Ravilious and his world, I was apprehensive about seeing Eric Ravilious: Drawn to War. I knew it would get the story 'right', because Margy Kinmonth is a brilliant, diligent film-maker who involved ER's daughter (and expert fact-checker) Anne Ullmann throughout. But that's not really the point, is it? I've read all of ER's letters many times. They have a voice in my head, as do his wife Tirzah Garwood's letters and autobiography. I also have my own interpretation of the Ravilious story, one I have recounted to many thousands of people over the past decade and a half. Margy's version was bound to be different - how would I feel as it unfolded on the screen?

I needn't have worried. The first scene plunges us into a world of mingled sadness, beauty and joy. Pace and tone are spot on. Voices and images come and go, held lightly together by Edmund Joliffe's marvellous score - music I could imagine ER whistling as he worked. Watercolours, wood engravings and lithographs appear before us, hover for a moment or two, then fade away. The voices of Eric (Freddie Fox) and Tirzah (Tamsin Greig) convey the brightness - in all senses - of the characters. There are familiar faces - Anne herself, ER's grand-daughter Ella Ravilious, Grayson Perry, Alan Bennett - and one or two I wasn't expecting. Ai Weiwei's interjections are memorable. Anne Desmet is fantastic on wood engraving.

We see hands at work, cutting into wood blocks or painting, and these clips take on their own rhythm, flowing through the film. They help build up our picture of Ravilious the artist, and at the same time they add to the poetic structure of the film. It's a documentary, yes, but also a kind of evocation. The film reflects its subject not only in content but also in structure and style. ER's work in all media has this hard-to-define quality of blended rigour and lightness, and in its clarity and effortless flow the film captures this perfectly.

I can't wait for the London premiere on 27 June! 

A little later, on 13 July, I'll be joining director Margy Kinmonth for a Q&A plus screening at the Watershed, Bristol. This is one of numerous Q&As Margy will be doing around the country. Meanwhile the film will be showing at 60 cinemas nationwide, starting 1 July. Info here. Read more about the film here


Sunday, 22 May 2022


The private view of the 2015 Ravilious exhibition at Dulwich Picture Gallery was a bit of a blur, but one moment that stuck in my mind was meeting Margy Kinmonth for the first time. I had really enjoyed her film about LS Lowry, and when she appeared out of the crowd that evening and said she was making a film about Ravilious I was intrigued.

Not long after that we met up and had a chat about the project, and since then we've kept in touch. As far as I can tell she has talked to everyone who has anything remotely helpful or interesting to say about Ravilious, and she has overcome innumerable obstacles to get her film made. After hearing so much about the film over so many years I can't quite believe I'm going to see it in a couple of weeks...

Eric Ravilious: Drawn to War is produced by Foxtrot Films and distributed in UK cinemas from 1 July by Dartmouth Films: find your local screening here!


Wednesday, 18 May 2022

David Remfry: Watercolour - New Book and Exhibition!

Over his long and successful career David Remfry MBE RA RWS has achieved a mastery of watercolour that few have matched. Unusually for the medium, he works on a large scale and often focuses on people, exploring the dance hall and the nightclub in breathtaking images that are at once beautiful and edgy.

This book is the first full-length monograph devoted to the artist's watercolours. Its author, James Russell, is well known for his writing on 20th-century British artists. Russell brings his scholarship, humour and fascination for people and their lives to his study of Remfry's career, tracing the evolution of a remarkable talent, looking in depth at the most significant works and placing Remfry in the context of both the British watercolour tradition and international contemporary painting. This is at once a glorious art book and an intimate portrait of city life.

Having spent 20 years living and working at the legendary Chelsea Hotel in New York, Remfry has a following on both sides of the Atlantic. New Yorkers - often in party mode - feature in many of his watercolours, and his recollections of people and places add colour to the text.

I thoroughly enjoyed working with David on this book and on the accompanying exhibition, which runs until July at the Royal Watercolour Society's beautiful new gallery at Whitcomb St, London W1 (an addition to its Bankside Gallery, NB, not a replacement).

We're going to be In Conversation at the gallery at 6pm on Friday 20 May. Having spent a lot of time chatting with David over the past year I can recommend buying a ticket - he's great fun!

Info and tickets available from the Royal Watercolour Society.



Wednesday, 27 April 2022


Richard Eurich, Survivors from a Torpedoed Ship, 1942, Tate

From fishermen to submariners, migrants to merchant seamen, people throughout the ages have shared the experience of being at sea. Seafaring explores the perils and pleasures of life at sea, while at the same time taking visitors on an art historical voyage from the early 19th century to the present.

At the heart of the exhibition is Lost at Sea, a show-within-a-show featuring three oil paintings by innovative contemporary artist Cecily Brown from her critically-acclaimed Shipwreck series. These are set alongside works by three Romantic artists who inspired her. Eugène Delacroix, Théodore Géricault and J.M.W Turner were among the first painters to focus attention on the plight of  shipwrecked mariners, ordinary people who found themselves at the mercy of the sea. Géricault’s painting The Raft of the Medusa inspired another contemporary artist, Martin Kippenberger, to explore his own mortality in a set of lithographs.

The themes of shipwreck and rescue also play out across the wider Seafaring exhibition, as do those of voyage and migration, work and leisure, war and peace. The exhibition includes works based on artists’ observation of the sea and the creatures that inhabit it, and depictions of the people who, for different reasons, travel the sea by ship or boat. In the late 19th century James Tissot studied travellers embarking and disembarking at the Port of London, while Edward Burne-Jones painted a poignant portrait of a young wife longing for the safe return of her husband from sea. Early in the next, Frank Brangwyn portrayed trawlermen battling rough seas. World War Two gave artists such as Ronald Searle and Edward Ardizzone the opportunity to observe maritime life at first hand. Eric Ravilious briefly became the unofficial artist-in-residence aboard a training submarine. More recently Peter de Francia and Maggi Hambling have explored very different aspects of migration by sea, while Chris Orr offers a light-hearted view on life aboard an ocean liner that complements the elegant posters of the interwar years.  

Seafaring opens at Hastings Contemporary on Saturday 30 April!

Monday, 14 March 2022

Inspired by the Boy: In Conversation with Angie Lewin

A Ravilious Coronation Mug features in this linocut by Angie Lewin

I'm looking forward to joining artist and designer Angie Lewin on March 23 for an online event exploring her career-long fascination for Eric Ravilious. With Kirsty Rodda of Hampshire Cultural Trust keeping us in order, we will spend an hour looking in-depth at Rav's achievements in wood engraving, watercolour and ceramic design. I always enjoy hearing other people's views on artists I admire, doubly so when the views are coming from someone as talented and insightful as Angie. 

We will have some slides to share so you can see what we're referring to, but this is definitely a conversation rather than a lecture: we're bound to end up venturing down some unexpected avenues!

If you'd like to join us please visit The Arc Winchester website for details and tickets.