Monday, 30 January 2012

Ravilious Watercolours on Show in March!

We'll be launching the new book at the RWA, Bristol, on Saturday 10 March!
Exciting news for art lovers in the West Country! On 10 March an exhibition of watercolours, wood engravings and lithographs by Eric Ravilious (1903-42) will open at the Royal West of England Academy here in Bristol.

After the phenomenal success of Ravilious shows in Eastbourne (Towner, 2010) and Saffron Walden (Fry Art Gallery, 2011), it will be wonderful to see a substantial body of work on display in the West of England. I haven't seen a full list of pictures yet, but there will definitely be some favourites on show, alongside paintings that people may not have seen before.

from Ladies Who Travel
At the Towner exhibition, 'Familiar Visions', we saw the artist's paintings of Sussex alongside his son James Ravilious's photographs of Devon. The Fry also took a regional angle, concentrating on 'Ravilious in Essex'. This time around the organisers are taking a slightly more academic approach, using the title 'Going Modern/Being British' as a starting point. It was Paul Nash, the painter's teacher, who asked in the early 1930s whether it was possible to be a modern artist while retaining qualities he considered to be traditionally British. In paintings like 'Event on the Downs' he tackled this question head on, but he'd already addressed it in more subtle ways earlier in his life.

He was particularly influential in the 1920s as a champion of wood engraving and watercolour. These were in no sense new media, but they had been so neglected in the 19th century that they must have seemed fresh and exciting to young artists in the aftermath of the Great War. Nash's 1924 exhibition of landscapes in watercolour was a dazzling success, but with most of the pictures in private hands it is difficult for us to appreciate just how good - and how innovative - this work was.

We are much luckier with Ravilious, who was studying with Nash at the time and went on to master both of his teacher's favourite media. As a wood engraver he was rarely surpassed - a fact that was acknowledged during his lifetime - but as a watercolourist the very good reputation he had built up before his death is only now recovering from a long period of neglect. It's wonderful that so many of his paintings have survived, in excellent condition, and that so many are either in public collections or owned by people who are more than willing to lend them for exhibitions.

Eric Ravilious, Interior at Furlongs, 1939 (DACS)
Ravilious is often described as 'quintessentially English' rather than British, a distinction which I think makes him seem a slightly parochial figure - as does his lack of interest in artistic movements and theories. In fact he numbered Henry Moore and other modernist luminaries among his friends, and travelled as widely as circumstances allowed; he painted ordinary things - an old car, a greenhouse, a barbed wire fence - in a way that made people see them in a new light, which suggests a modern mind at work.

David Hockney, Winter Timber
I'm glad this show will be on at the same time as David Hockney's exhibition at the Royal Academy. The two exhibitions will prove a wonderful study in contrast, with giant, boldly coloured pictures on the one hand, and small, delicately-nuanced paintings on the other - brass band vs solo violin. Yet the two artists also have so much in common, in particular a vital understanding that mystery and beauty reside in the most ordinary scenes.

Eric Ravilious: Going Modern/Being British is at the RWA, Bristol, from 10 March until 29 April
David Hockney: A Bigger Picture is at the RA, London, until 9 April

We will be launching 'Ravilious in Pictures: A Travelling Artist' at the RWA, Bristol, on 10 March, and on 24 March I will be giving an illustrated talk based on my researches for the new book, also at the RWA.


  1. Ooh, at last, a Ravilious exhibition I might be able to get to!

  2. You can get to Bristol from anywhere, Gretel - we even have an airport!

  3. I feel a train journey coming on!

  4. Woop! Bristol is very do-able for me too. I hadn't considered the comparision between Hockney & Ravilious's motivation before. I'd love to see those two exhibitions back to back.

  5. Thanks, Martin & Murgatroyd - hope to see you in March! Perhaps we should talk to First Great Western and see if they can do a Hockney-to-Ravilious special, with old-fashioned carriages of course...

  6. Good luck with the launch.

  7. Thanks acornmoon - launches are the fun bit, it's getting all the words in the right order that I need luck for!

  8. Very interesting comparison of Ravilious and Hockney, James. I think you're right, it's the eye for the everyday detail that links them. Also both great draughtsmen, of course. But the riot of colour in Hockney and the subdued tones in Ravilious would make most people think them worlds apart.

  9. Thanks Neil - I just love the fact that people are getting the opportunity to see these fabulous and very different landscape paintings. Plus there's the exhibition celebrating the life and work of Tirzah Ravilious (Garwood), which opens at the Fry just before Easter - that should be a treat too.