There is something quiet and understated about the work of Eric Ravilious, something almost elegiac. This particular volume, the third in a series, focuses on watercolours inspired by the landscape of Essex and Suffolk and highlights many of the themes that made Ravilious such a brilliant artist and his work so poignant for the viewer. The painting reproduced opposite the title page - 'Talbot-Darracq' - serves as a fine example. The picture is of a car, once elegant and grand but now decaying in a quiet corner of a scrapyard, its components bleached by the sun and rusted by the rain. Grass grows up around its wheels and tangled pieces of wire and scraps of metal lay strewn in the foreground. The whole image is one of decay, of manmade artifacts being reclaimed by nature, and yet the picture is sublimely beautiful, elegant and even strangely, surreally uplifting. Ravilious was always brilliant at finding beauty in the most unexpected of places.
The book contains just over twenty watercolours, each beautifully reproduced on its own page and each accompanied by a commentary of about 200 words. The text is quite relaxed and makes observations about where the images were painted and what was happening in Ravilious' life at the time. Some of the comments are rather wonderful - one image is of a vicarage and the accompanying paragraphs point out that when Ravilious introduced himself to the new vicar he was delighted to discover him burning the temperance hymn books of his predecessor. By taking a playful stance the text manages to make the pictures seem more personal and, as a result, it allows Ravilious the man to shine through.
There are many beautiful watercolours in this book so it is difficult to single any out for particular comment but, just to name a couple of personal favourites, I loved 'Train Going Over a Bridge at Night' with the carriages all lit a vivid yellow against the night sky; 'Village Street' with its couple riding bicycles through streets shiny with recent rain has a beautiful playful, romantic feel to it and 'Late August Beach' has a beautiful summery look with its bathing machines waiting to be wheeled down the peebled beach to the sea. In many ways Ravilious with his gift for making everyday scenes flicker with beauty was the perfect artist to capture the landscapes of mid-1930s England: beautiful patchworks of fields; the coalman delivering coal through the rain; the butcher's shop on the highstreet. All so everyday, all sadly heading towards war with Germany, all so exquisitely depicted.
I love the work of Ravilious and this book does him proud. Perhaps the fact that I seem to have used the words 'beautiful' and 'beauty' over and over again in this review tells you all you need to know. The only trouble is, being part of a series, I now very much wish to purchase its companions. Time to get saving those pennies. A fine book, in conclusion, featuring the work of a brilliant, brilliant artist.