Tuesday 13 February 2024


Tirzah Garwood, Hornet and Wild Rose, 1950 (Towner)

Another lengthy silence and another valid excuse... I've been hard at work putting together the first major museum exhibition devoted to the art of Tirzah Garwood (1908-51) since the memorial exhibition shortly after her death. 

Tirzah Garwood: Beyond Ravilious will open at Dulwich Picture Gallery in November, and I am absolutely delighted to be bringing the work of this remarkable artist to the audience she deserves. I was going to say 'unknown' artist but in fact Garwood is familiar to quite a number of people, thanks to her autobiography Long Live Great Bardfield and to Margy Kinmonth's film Eric Ravilious: Drawn to War

Some of the wood engravings she made in her early twenties are also well-known, having been reproduced here and there, but those were a small - if brilliant - part of her artistic achievement. In the 1930s and 1940s she made exquisite decorative papers using a marbling technique that was all her own and went on, in the few years she had between the end of World War Two and her death from breast cancer, to create a series of compelling house constructions or dioramas and a group of hauntingly beautiful oil paintings.

The last twenty of these Garwood painted in her last year, when she knew she was dying and yet was somehow able to paint works that are at once radiant and uncanny. They are not at all like her first husband's watercolours, but she did share with him an 'innocent eye' that was a lot less innocent than it seemed, and an ability to get to the very essence of things.

Roll on November!

Tirzah Garwood: Beyond Ravilious opens at Dulwich Picture Gallery in November, almost ten years after my exhibition Ravilious opened there. I'll be advertising an online lecture to introduce the show soon...

Sunday 5 November 2023


Eric Ravilious, New Year Snow, 1938, watercolour 


I wrote the note below for Dreweatts, who were selling New Year Snow in their recent auction, Robert Kime: The Personal Collection...

This atmospheric watercolour depicts a picturesque valley in the Welsh borders and, at the same time, shows us a master at work.

Early in 1938 Ravilious travelled to Capel-y-Ffin, a hamlet in the Honddu valley not far from the ruins of Llanthony Priory. Having concentrated on illustration and design for a couple of years he was at last free to paint watercolours, and to take his time doing so. He had booked a room in the hamlet’s solitary farmhouse for two months, and looked forward to exploring a landscape that was wilder than his native Sussex.

Steeped as he was in the English watercolour tradition, Ravilious was well aware that JMW Turner, John Sell Cotman and other luminaries had painted the valley before him, although those earlier Romantic artists had tended to focus on the ruined abbey. A more recent visitor was artist-poet David Jones, who had stayed with Eric Gill and his entourage in Capel-y-Ffin in the 1920s. Ravilious admired the strong modern line and delicate palette of Jones’s watercolours, which present subjects similar to this but in a very different style.

In New Year Snow Ravilious presented a recognisable view south-east along the valley, towards the distinctive buttress of Loxidge Tump. He was no topographer, however, and here he redirected the course of the river so that it bends across the composition, roughly mirroring the curve of hills against the sky. Water, land and sky are painted with remarkable economy, with only the lightest of washes across the hilltops. Mostly the watercolour has been applied in single strokes, often with a dry brush. The white paper showing through suggests here rough grass dusted with snow and there the shimmer of moving water, while conveying at the same time a feeling of light-heartedness and freedom.

In place of the ruins beloved of Turner’s generation, we have the kind of man-made object that delighted Ravilious: a sheep feeder on wheels set centre stage and at a precarious angle. This positioning and the clarity of the draughtsmanship lend a slightly dreamlike quality to the scene.

In May 1939 Ravilious held his third exhibition of watercolours at the prestigious London gallery of Arthur Tooth and Son, the show that cemented his reputation. In The Observer, Jan Gordon praised Ravilious’s extraordinary technique, which made the most mundane object ‘appear as something magic, almost mystic, distilled out of the ordinary everyday.’ Twenty-seven watercolours are listed in the catalogue; New Year Snow is No. 1.

I can't remember the exact figure, but the work ended up selling for over £300,000... New Year Snow is featured in my book Ravilious in Pictures: A Travelling Artist, published by The Mainstone Press.

Monday 2 October 2023

Boutiques! Boutiques! Boutiques!

'Gramophones', from Boutiques, illustrated by Lucien Boucher

Exciting news for lovers of astonishing books: Tim Mainstone has just published the third in his remarkable trilogy of books celebrating both a golden age of illustration and a glorious epoch in the history of shopping. Details of the Boutiques trilogy are available on the Mainstone Press website, but if you want to get a real sense of what these three beautiful volumes are like, why not come along to our special launch event on 12 October? It's at Maggs Bros, the antiquarian bookseller, on London's Bedford Square, and starts at 6pm.

Each book takes as its starting point an innovative illustrated book of shops published in Paris in the 1920s: Boutiques (1925) and Boutiques de la Foire (1926), with colour lithographs by Lucien Boucher, and Boutiques Litteraires, with illustrations by Henri Guilac (1925). Each Mainstone edition features captions by Andrew Stewart and an array of historical photos, archive materials and artworks brought together in typically elegant, witty style by designers Webb & Webb. Literary flaneuse Lauren Elkin wrote an accompanying essay for the Guilac book, while fairground historian Pascal Jacob did the same for Boutiques de la Foire and I wrote on the first Boucher book. Print aficionado Neil Philip provided for each volume a succinct print and production history.

To me, these books are primarily guides for the time-travelling armchair flaneur: books to marvel at and dream in. It's important to note, however, just how little has been written about the supremely talented Boucher before now, in any language. Most of the material I drew on in my essay (with help from my A-level French) was unearthed by Tim Mainstone, who made it is his mission to discover every known fact, story or piece of gossip about this brilliant precursor to Eric Ravilious and Edward Bawden. In fact Tim spent years trawling obscure databases and publications for information not only about Boucher but also about publisher Marcel Seheur and - last, but definitely not least - the brilliant author Pierre Mac Orlan, whose waspish prose poems add a strange, dark mystery to the original book. They are included in the new edition, alongside translations by Shaun Whiteside.

Tim has published some wonderful books over the past two decades, but I'm not sure anything compares in scope, ambition and sheer wonderment to the Boutiques trilogy. If you'd like to see this work of art for yourself and hear a bit more about how it was created, come along on the 12th. You're in for a treat.


Monday 20 March 2023

Soutine | Kossoff opening soon at Hastings Contemporary!


The prolonged lack of activity on this site is due, not to laziness as you might think, but to me having been working flat out on the exhibition opening at the end of next week at Hastings Contemporary... 

1 APRIL – 24 SEPT 2023

Opening at Hastings Contemporary in April 2023, Soutine | Kossoff pairs two major figures of 20th century painting: one a master of the School of Paris, the other a master of the School of London. Soutine | Kossoff is the first museum exhibition to explore the artistic relationship between British artist Leon Kossoff (1926-2019) and Belarus-born painter Chaim Soutine (1893-1943). Undertaken with the full support of the Kossoff estate, it brings together important loans from public and private collections in the UK and overseas, providing a fascinating follow-up to The Barnes Foundation’s 2021 show Soutine / De Kooning.  

The discovery of Soutine’s paintings in the early 1950s was a significant moment for Kossoff, who was already finding his way towards the kind of direct and expressive use of paint he saw in his predecessor’s work. Soutine grew up in Belarus before migrating to Paris as a young man, while Kossoff was born and raised in London, his parents having arrived there from Ukraine as children. Although their life experiences were very different, the two artists shared a Russian Jewish heritage which perhaps brought a particular cultural sensibility to their work. To create transcendent works from the stuff of everyday life became Kossoff’s mission, as it had been Soutine’s.

The main focus of Soutine | Kossoff is on the areas of interest shared by both artists: landscape and portraiture. The exhibition features seminal landscapes painted by Soutine in southern France in the early 1920s, with highlights including Paysage aux cyprès, c1922, and Cagnes Landscape with Tree, c1925-26 (Tate). From Kossoff come major paintings of railway junctions, building sites and other scenes of unexpected beauty found in north and north-west London, among them Willesden Junction, Summer, No.2, 1966 (Alfred East Art Gallery) and Demolition of the Old House, Dalston Junction, Summer, 1974 (Tate).
Visitors will have a rare opportunity to view Kossoff’s stunning Nude on a Red Bed, 1972, alongside works such as his powerful Head of Seedo, 1964. A major group of Soutine portraits includes Le Petit Pâtissier, c1927, Young Woman in a White Blouse, c1923 (Courtauld Institute) and Le Valet de Chambre, c1927.

A catalogue with top notch colour reproductions of all works is being published by Hastings Contemporary. It features an essay by yours truly and another by art historian Simonetta Fraquelli, who co-curated Soutine / De Kooning, and it was designed by Lucy Morton, previously designer of my Ravilious and Bawden catalogues for Dulwich Picture Gallery.

Soutine | Kossoff opens to the public on 1 April and runs until September. All the info you need is on the Hastings Contemporary website. Hope you can get to Sussex this summer!

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!