Thursday, 1 March 2018

Ravilious & Bawden in the Snow

Eric Ravilious, Halstead Road in Snow, 1935, private collection
So far I've resisted posting photos of the current Snowmageddon anywhere, mostly because I live in Bristol and we have about a teacupful. Instead, here are two rather different visions of snowfall. In each case we can see the artist using watercolour in a slightly unusual way.

Writing about 'Halstead Road in Snow' to Helen Binyon, Ravilious noted, 'Scratching the spots all over the drawing was a change, and I enjoyed it.' He managed to do this in such a way that the flakes of falling snow form a rough pattern, as if a diaphanous veil had been held up in front of the scene, yet there is no point at which the pattern becomes too neat. In fact there's a sense of jostling motion, enhanced by the movement suggested by the cycle tracks pulling the viewer's eye into the scene and around the corner.

Edward Bawden, February: 2pm, 1936, private collection
In startling contrast to this gentle scene of lightly falling flakes, Edward Bawden presents a howling blizzard. To appreciate 'February: 2pm' you really have to see it in person, and happily you will be able to do just that at Dulwich Picture Gallery this summer. When I took the dog to the park just now the snow was flying in our faces, battering painfully at exposed skin, and this is the kind of experience one senses Bawden trying to communicate. Across a wintry view of the garden at Brick House he has scrawled violently with crayon and pencil, and scratched with a blade - a good thing he used heavy lettering paper as anything more delicate would surely have been torn.

These differing impressions of winter weather give a good insight in these closely linked but very different artists. Where Ravilious tended towards coolness and control, Bawden was passionate and direct, and while the former often completed his watercolours in a studio, the latter insisted on working on site, returning each day until the picture was finished. Each used colour in a distinctive way, delicate in Eric's case, bold and surprising in Edward's. Each was in awe of the other.

'Edward Bawden' opens at Dulwich Picture Gallery in May. #Bawden2018
'Eric Ravilious: The Complete Watercolours' will be published next year by The Hedingham Press.