This, the fourth book in the 'Ravilious in Pictures' series takes as its theme the paintings Ravilious produced during his travels around Britain and France. The result, as with the previous titles, is a collection of about twenty paintings, all beautifully reproduced and accompanied by a description of a few hundred words outlining the history behind the pictures and explaining what was happening in Ravilious' life at the time.
The pictures in this particular volume are quite diverse. We have the scenes of landscapes and shorelines that we might expect -the beach at Dungeness in all its strange, alien beauty for example, or the charming picture of a homemade waterwheel in the Welsh countryside with an attendant gaggle of geese - but we also have a couple of interiors, landscapes viewed through the windows of a room, and even a London scene - the observatory at Greenwich. Ravilious has always struck me as one of those fortuitous examples of the right artist being in the right place at the right time. His watercolours and his style of painting capture the landscapes and passtimes of 1930s rural Britain to perfection: gentle, but never bland; pastoral, but never sentimental; beautiful, but always honest. Ravilious' life was tragically cut short by the Second World War but we should be grateful that he produced so many superb works during his relatively short life.
It's difficult to choose favourites from this volume but three or four paintings do, for me, stand out as, well, if not 'the best' then perhaps as 'the most fascinating'. There is an early watercolour from 1933 called 'November 5th' which is surreal and haunting. The scene shows Bonfire Night with fireworks, bonfires and children playing in suburban gardens. It's unusual for a Ravilious picture in that it contains so many figures but, when you look closely, it becomes bewildering and strange. In the right-hand corner a group of men and women each wearing an animal mask dance in a garden: it is pagan, a carnival, a surreal and baffling celebration, haunting, enigmatic and almost sinister but somehow rich and fascinating at the same time. Another haunting picture is 'Wet Afternoon' in which a solitary figure walks away from the viewer down a hedge-lined track towards a mysterious white house. The sky is a washed-out grey and the hedges and hills are pale and muted in the rain. Again it is the air of mystery that fascinates, who is the lonely figure and why does the house look so secretive and blank? It's like a scene from a Daphne du Maurier novel, or a film by Hitchcock.
Much more straightforward is the painting 'Lifeboat' which shows the Rye lifeboat on its beach beneath a glorious turquoise sky. It's uplifting and simple as an image but it captures the beauty of a summer day perfectly: the sky, the pebbles and the gentle waves almost carry the sounds of gulls and the scent of spray from the page. Finally there is the picture 'Leaving Scapa Flow' which shows a single figure, huddled in his dufflecoat, aboard HMS Highlander as she leaves the Second World War naval base and heads for Norway. It's a tranquil but poignant image, and one which perfectly captures the notion of 'the calm before the storm'. The war has begun and the world will never again be the same, but there is still time for reflection and, in the hills in the distance and in the pale blue sky above, time for beauty.
All of the books in this series are well worth purchasing if you have a love for Ravilious the man and Ravilious the artist but this volume in particular strikes me as quite exceptional because in the space of twenty or so paintings it captures so many different facets of Ravilious' work. It's a lovely book, and a worthy tribute to a superb artist.