Eric Ravilious

Eric Ravilious SWE (British 1903-1942)

English painter, wood-engraver and designer. Eric Ravilious was born in Acton and was educated at Eastbourne School of Art and then at the Royal College of Art (1922–1925), where he was taught by Paul Nash and became close friends with Edward Bawden. He began teaching part-time at Eastbourne School of Art in 1925 and later that year was elected to the Society of Wood Engravers, having been proposed by Paul Nash. After leaving the RCA, he became a master of wood engraving and illustrated numerous books and produced patterned papers for the Curwen Press. In the 1930s he began painting larger compositions in a wider range of colour, and this led him to use lithography to illustrate High Street (1938). Later as a War Artist he produced a series of lithographs of submarines.

Ravilious also produced posters and designs for Wedgwood, including the celebration mug (1936) for the coronation of King Edward VIII, which was withdrawn and revised for the coronations of George VI and Elizabeth II; the Alphabet mug (1937); the Afternoon Tea (1937), Travel (1938) and Garden Implements (1939) china sets; and the Boat Race Day cup (1938). He also designed glass for Stuart Crystal (1934), furniture for Dunbar Hay (1936) and graphic work for advertisements for London Transport and others. Despite his success as a designer, Ravilious concentrated increasingly on watercolours. His landscapes and rural interiors often featured the downland and coast of southern England; haunting and lyrical, these works show a world in suspense and often feature chalk hill figures, as in Train Landscape (c. 1939; Aberdeen, A.G.) and empty rooms (e.g. Farmhouse Bedroom, 1939; London, V&A). In 1939 he became a War Artist, and during World War II he depicted such subjects as De-iceing Aircraft (c. 1942; London, Imperial War Museum). He died while observing a sea rescue mission.

Ravilious created very few prints, and those he produced were in direct collaboration with printers. His first lithograph was in 1936, ‘Newhaven harbour’, printed by the esteemed Curwen Press. Ravilious created the ‘High Street’ series of lithographs between 1936 and 1937, drawing the images directly on the stone, also at the Curwen. The idea was given to him by his lover, Helen Binyon, and he had initially proposed it as an ‘alphabet of shops’ to the Golden Cockerel Press, with whom he had previously worked, but they proved too small a press to undertake such a project. Curwen’s great ambition in the arena of lithography saw them subsidise the project.

These examples are the original lithographs, printed for ‘High Street’ in an edition of c. 2000; they have never been reprinted in their original state, since Ravilious’ lithographic plates were destroyed in the Blitz. In 2008 The Mainstone Press published a history of the project, The Story of High Street; in 2004, several of the lithographs from this series were exhibited at the Imperial War Museum, for their ‘Imagined Realities’ Show.

References: J. M. Richards: The Wood Engravings of Eric Ravilious (London, 1972); F. Constable: The England of Eric Ravilious (London, 1982); H. Binyon: Eric Ravilious: Memoir of an Artist (London, 1983); R. Dalrymple: Ravilious and Wedgwood (London, 1986); Eric Ravilious, 1903–42: A Re-assessment of his Life and Work (exh. cat. by P. Andrew, Eastbourne, Towner A.G. & Local Hist. Mus., 1986); R. Garton, ed.: For Shop Use Only: Eric Ravilious (Devizes, 1993); Tate Gallery. Artists at the Curwen Exhibition 178. Horne. The Dictionary of Twentieth Century British Book Illustrators, p. 363.

These examples are the original lithographs, printed for ‘High Street’ in an edition of c. 2000; they have never been reprinted in their original state, since Ravilious’ lithographic plates were destroyed in the Blitz. In 2008 The Mainstone Press published a history of the project, The Story of High Street; in 2004, several of the lithographs from this series were exhibited at the Imperial War Museum, for their ‘Imagined Realities’ Show.