Tuesday, 30 September 2014

The Lost Watercolours of Edward Bawden

Edward Bawden, February 2pm, 1936, private collection/estate of Edward Bawden
It seems amazing that seven years have passed since Tim Mainstone of The Mainstone Press commissioned me to track down the shops portrayed by Eric Ravilious in his remarkable 1938 book 'High Street'. I spent one memorable day racing around London, armed with a folder of pictures and an annotated A-Z, trying to visit a dozen or more sites before dark, and another with Tim exploring the Hedinghams in the pouring rain.

Writing about art and artists is always enjoyable, but there's nothing quite like a quest. Come to think of it, all of the books I've written have involved at least an element of sleuthing. Finding locations is always fun, but so is teasing out a new influence or connection. Top of the list, though, is discovering a painting. When JS Auctions sent me a photo of the Ravilious watercolour 'Aldeburgh Bathing Machines' it hardly seemed possible that such a beautiful painting had been hidden away for so long.

Although it was the Ravilious that made the money in last Saturday's auction, Tim and I were equally excited by the discovery of a second painting that had not been seen for many years, Edward Bawden's watercolour showing the back of Brick House, Great Bardfield, and entitled 'February, 2pm'.

The auctioneers kindly took the time to show me both paintings last week, and while the Ravilious was, as Anne Ullmann put it, 'an absolute corker', the Bawden was full of surprises. I knew that he liked to work on non-absorbent paper so that he could scratch into the paint, but I had never seen the results of this approach up close. It looked as though Jackson Pollock had lent a hand with a welter of scratch marks, pencil scrawl and jagged stabs of pastel.

Which makes our new Mainstone Press quest that much more exciting. The art world has rather forgotten that in the 1930s Edward Bawden was renowned not only as a talented illustrator and designer but also as a watercolourist of great skill and daring. Exhibitions at the Zwemmer Gallery in 1933 and Leicester Galleries in 1938 were well received by critics and buyers alike, and it was this commercial success that now makes the paintings so hard to find.

Many of the pictures disappeared into private collections and have rarely, if ever, been seen since. And the task of locating them is made rather more difficult by the fact that the 1933 paintings were given lines of poetry for titles - often cleverly apt lines, but too wordy for everyday use. Often the watercolours were given more straightforward titles by owners or dealers, so it is not easy to work out which is which.

However, the quest is going well, and a number of fascinating, often lovely and always inventive pictures have come to light. We'll be putting a book together in due course, so if anyone can help us find more of these pre-war Bawden watercolours, do get in touch with me or with The Mainstone Press.

MAY 2015 UPDATE I'm now working on the book. Meanwhile, new paintings continue to come to light, and my opinion of Bawden-the-watercolourist just keeps going up. His 1938 Leicester Galleries exhibition must have been one of the events of the year, judging by the twenty-something pictures that Tim has located. The paintings of Newhaven, in particular, are startlingly fresh and original.

DEC 2015 UPDATE The book is now in production!

1 comment:

  1. The Bawden looked like a Japanese wood block print at first glance. The texture in particular looks as if it has a wood origin. How exciting to see it.