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.


  1. Thank you for your books, exhibitions, talks and discoveries. If ever you have the inclination it would be wonderful to see something about Algernon Newton whose spectral, haunting paintings of London in the early part of the last century are unparalleled, and show a London as definitive as are Ravilious’ pictures of the Downs.

    1. Thanks Gilbert - there is a post on Newton here somewhere, if you do a search. Otherwise I think someone connected with his estate is doing something, which makes it difficult for anyone else... sorry not to be more positive!

  2. Sorry to hear about the difficulty of access but happy to know that someone connected with the estate might be doing something. There was a (small) exhibition at the RA about 40 years ago which I remember to this day, although even the RA has a scarcity of information about their own exhibition.

    1. Danny Katz put on a good exhibition a few years ago - there's a catalogue - I'm sure you can find it if you have a look