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. 


Sunday, 27 February 2022

Eric Ravilious: HMS Glorious in the Arctic

Eric Ravilious, HMS Glorious in the Arctic, 1940 (Imperial War Museum)
Brightly lit by the midnight sun, aeroplanes swoop and soar around the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious, circling like Arctic terns against the incandescent sky. But if the treatment of the aircraft is playful, the jagged white light that cuts across the surface of the water adds urgency to the painting, reminding us that the ship is camouflaged for a purpose.
Ravilious left Scapa Flow for the second time on 31 May, as HMS Highlander again escorted HMS Glorious to Norway. The German invasion of France had rendered the Norwegian campaign irrelevant and on 4 June a general evacuation of Allied forces began. On the night of 7/8 June a squadron of Hawker Hurricanes flew from their Norwegian base to Glorious, where all eight planes landed successfully – the first time this particular model had achieved such a feat. This painting shows the Hurricanes – and the Gloster Gladiators whose pilots had shown such bravery during the campaign – circling the carrier as they prepare to land, completing a daring escape.
Then, in the early hours of 8 June, Captain Guy D’Oyly-Hughes, commander of HMS Glorious, was granted permission – under circumstances that remain mysterious - to leave the convoy and go on ahead to Scapa Flow. This time HMS Highlander stayed behind with the carrier Ark Royal, while the destroyers HMS Acasta and HMS Ardent accompanied Glorious. That evening the German cruisers Gneisenau and Scharnhorst sighted the three ships, and a direct hit from Scharnhorst immediately put the carrier’s flight deck out of action. With no protection from the air the British ships were outgunned and, after a furious bombardment, all three were sunk, with the eventual loss of 1,519 men.
‘We have been very lucky,’ wrote Ravilious to (his wife) Tirzah on 10 June, while still at sea.
Such was the scale of the disaster that Neville Chamberlain was forced to resign, and Winston Churchill became Prime Minister. Nazi propagandists lost no time in releasing an eyewitness account that described the carrier’s last moments: ‘Slowly the giant began to turn on her side. Pouring out flames and smoke she drifted with the wind. A moment later she sank.’
A month later the first exhibition of war art opened at the National Gallery, with this painting among a considerable number of works by Ravilious. A critic in The Times suggested that the artist was overly preoccupied with capturing the effects of light in Norway, the implication being perhaps that he had failed to convey the full drama of the situation. Others, notably Kenneth Clark, greatly admired the Norwegian watercolours, and today this luminous painting serves as a fitting memorial to HMS Glorious and the men who died with her.

This is an extract from Ravilious in Pictures: The War Paintings, published by The Mainstone Press.

HMS Glorious in the Arctic is currently on show at The Arc, Winchester, in the exhibition Extraordinary Everyday: The Art and Design of Eric Ravilious.

At 7.30pm on 7 March 2022 I'll be zooming my lecture Laughter and Loss: British Artist in World War Two to raise funds for the Red Cross Ukraine Crisis Appeal. Info and tickets are here.

Wednesday, 9 February 2022

Eric Ravilious: Art and Life on Zoom!

Eric Ravilious, Train Landscape, 1939, Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museum

Please join me for a feature-length online introduction to the life and work of the much-loved artist and designer. Two 45-minute lectures with interval! 

Eric Ravilious was only 39 when he died on active service as a war artist in 1942, but he had already achieved incredible things. This colourful two-part lecture explores the celebrated artist and designer's remarkable achievements in wood engraving, lithography, ceramic design and, of course, watercolour.

I've spent much of the past decade investigating the life and work of this elusive artist. Having put together the 2015 exhibition Ravilious at Dulwich Picture Gallery, I recently curated Eric Ravilious: Downland Man for the Wiltshire Museum and, for Hampshire Cultural Trust, Extraordinary Everyday: The Art and Design of Eric Ravilious, which opens on 18 Feb 2022.

Please note: your ticket covers both lectures, which will be given via Zoom on the same evening, with a 15-minute interval. A recording will be available for ticket holders, but tickets must be bought beforehand.

Tickets are on sale now, via Eventbrite.


Monday, 22 November 2021

Dates for December!

A couple of lecture dates for December:

Eric Ravilious: Downland Man is on 2nd December, via zoom, hosted by the Wiltshire Museum. Tickets and information are available on the museum's website.

The chalk downland of southern England inspired Eric Ravilious (1903-42) to produce some of his finest watercolours, but his fascination for the Downs ran deeper. Until January 2022 Wiltshire Museum is hosting Eric Ravilious: Downland Man, the first exhibition to explore the relationship between an extraordinary artist and designer, and the landscape he loved. In this wide-ranging online lecture curator I'll be introducing the themes of the exhibition and looking in-depth at The Westbury Horse and similar treasures, some well-known, others rarely seen.

Ravilious, Bawden... and Boucher is at 1.30pm on 11 December, and its LIVE, one of several talks at this year's Bloomsbury Jamboree. The event is at the Art Worker's Guild, WC1N 3AT, and tickets are available from eventbrite

To celebrate the forthcoming publication of the new Mainstone Press edition of Boutiques, I will be delving into the life and career of French artist and illustrator Lucien Boucher. Published in 1925, Boucher's colourful survey of Parisian shops is one of the most remarkable books of this time, and a major influence on Edward Bawden and Eric Ravilious. As well as exploring Boucher's marvellous illustrations we'll be taking a virtual tour around the Paris he knew and loved, so if you fancy some pre-Christmas flaneurism, do book a ticket!


Wednesday, 1 September 2021

Eric Ravilious: Downland Man - opens 25 Sept!!

Front cover, catalogue of Eric Ravilious: Downland Man exhibition

Almost a decade after Wiltshire Museum director David Dawson suggested the idea, Eric Ravilious: Downland Man is set to open at said venue on 25 September. Having been forced to delay the exhibition by a year because of Covid I'm excited to be hanging the show this month, especially as there are one or two works I haven't seen for a very long time. 

The catalogue has been sent to the printers by designer Lucy Morton of Illuminati Books, who designed the 2015 Dulwich catalogue and has created another gem for this show. It will be available in the museum shop and on their website. My essay explores the artist's relationship with the chalk hills of southern England, putting his passion for the landscape in historical context. The 1920s and 1930s saw  a great upsurge of interest in the Downs and their history, encouraged by archaeological discoveries at Stonehenge, Avebury and Maiden Castle, where Mortimer Wheeler's excavations were funded by public subscription.  

Downland Man is the title of a 1926 book by philosophically-minded countryside writer HJ Massingham. It was also a title mooted by publisher Noel Carrington for the Puffin Picture Book of chalk figures and other monuments that Ravilious planned to create; the dummy for this book was won at auction by David Dawson in 2012 (on behalf of the museum). It is from the acquisition of this humble but emotionally-charged object that the exhibition grew.

Of course Ravilious had a personal relationship with the chalk hills that began with his boyhood move from London to Eastbourne, and was still going strong when he explored coastal defences at Dover the year before he died in 1942. It was, in his interpretation, a human landscape, scarred and furrowed, and lived-in.

Eric Ravilious: Downland Man opens on 25 September 2021 at the Wiltshire Museum, Devizes. Please book via the website before you go.

I'm giving a lecture on 5 October for the Friends of the South Downs exploring the themes of the exhibition with a particular focus on the region of the national park, entitled Eric Ravilious and the South Downs. It will be via Zoom and booking is open now on the Friends' website.

Friday, 16 July 2021

Seaside Modern Lecture

Eric Ravilious, Mackerel Sky, 1938, watercolour



Whether you've been to Seaside Modern at Hastings Contemporary, are planning to go or wish you could go but can't, you might enjoy my online lecture on 22 July. It includes many of the artworks in the show along with works that were either unavailable or couldn't be squeezed in, and there are more archive photos and that kind of thing.

When I was putting the exhibition together I realised that there were two stories to be told, neither of which I'd considered before; two interwoven stories. The first is about people in Britain and their relationship with the beach, which changed from being predominantly a working environment in the early 19th century to being a place to relax. The numbers of people who were able to enjoy a day or more at the beach every year went up and up and up until the 1970s, when we started jetting to the Med instead. Women were liberated from the bathing machine...

Artists too joined the rush to the coast, not only the more conventional painters of views but some of the most adventurous modern artists of the day. Paul Nash enjoyed two periods of intense creativity by the sea. Ravilious made his name with some stunning work on the coast. Moore and Hepworth were inspired by the erosion of stones. 

Henry and Irina Moore, Ben Nicholson, Mary Jenkins,
Happisburgh 1931

I put together this lecture in part because it allows me to explore these themes in different ways, and to show works and archive material that were unavailable or just didn't fit. I hope you'll join me!

 Seaside Modern: Art and Life on the Beach - online lecture, 7.30pm, 22 July (recording available for ticket holders), tickets: