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Eric Ravilious: Imagined Realities Hardcover – 6 Nov 2003
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'Seventy years after his death, Eric Ravilious illustrations of England at home and at war are enjoying something of a renaissance. Imagined Realities is the third major book of his work published this year, collecting together watercolours, prints and extracts from the artist s letters.' --Artists and Illustrators --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
About the Author
Alan Powers, the curator of this exhibition, writes on the art, architecture and design of twentieth-century Britain. He is a regular columnist of Building Design and Architectural Journal, is architectural correspondent for The Spectator and has published a number of books on architecture and design. He is also a watercolour painter and a printmaker.
Top customer reviews
Revilious was active across a range of media – book illustration in wood engavings and lithography, pottery and textile design and painting. He painted watercolours [using minimal water and combining colour with differentiated graphic strokes], almost exclusively landscapes, and developed a very personal, albeit rather detached style.
This catalogue by Alan Powers, includes illustrations from a broad range of sources, including many from private collections. It contains 89 full page reproductions, almost all in colour and full-page, that range chronologically from the sensitively drawn pencil sketch “Untitled [Child]”, 1927, to works illustrating wartime themes just before his death.
Following an Introduction, illustrated chapters focus on the artist’s Murals, Illustration, Design, Watercolours and War Paintings. There is a Conclusion ‘Imagined and Imaginal Realities’ and the book ends with a Bibliograpgy, brief details of 25 works in the exhibition not illustrated here, a Chronology and a List of Lenders.
It is refreshing to find an artist unafflicted by serious artistic crises – he was ‘gay and easy and ready for anything’ whilst ‘friends thought of him as a butterfly’. Perhaps this carefree attitude and a lack of interest in both oil painting [which he considered ‘like using toothpaste’), the medium of the ‘real artist’, and Modernism contributed to his subsequent neglect. Whilst there are many contemporary photographs and personal reminiscences, this self-effacing English artist remains somewhat out of focus – not, of course, the main requirement of a catalogue of the artist’s work.
A feature of Ravilious’ painting was the juxtaposition of nature and machine; farm machinery in a field [“Downs in Winter”, 1934], an abandoned car [“Talbot-Darracq”, 1935], a waterwheel amongst trees [“Waterwheel”, 1938], ship’s parts [“Ship’s Screw on a Railway Track”, 1940] or an aeroplane overhead [“Runway Perspective”, 1942]. He also exploited the window as an internal frame for nature [Interior at “Furlongs” and “Train Landscape”, both 1939; “RNAS Sick Bay”, 1941] or as a means for nature to flourish internally [“The Greenhouse: Cyclamen and Tomatoes”, 1935, and “The Carnation House”, c. 1938]. Man’s influence on nature is also evident in his series of works featuring chalk figures [“The Westbury Horse”, “Chalk Figure nr Weymouth”, “The Vale of the White Horse”, “The Wilmington Giant” and “The Cerne Abbas Giant”, all 1939].
Other common motifs include fences that obstruct entry into the picture [“Firle Beacon”, 1927] and walkways [“The Stork, Hammersmith”, 1932, “Channel Steamer leaving Harbour”, 1935] and roads [“Train going over a Bridge at Night”, c. 1935, “Village Street”, 1936, “Caravans”, c. 1936, “Cuckmere Haven”, c. 1939 and “Convoy passing an Island (May Island)”, 1941] that take the viewer into the image. Skies are usually grey or cloudy, or wintery.
The catalogue shows designs for murals for Morley Hall in London, the art deco Midland Hotel in Morcambe and Colwyn Bay Pier, none of which survive, but there are fascinating photographs of the artist creating them. His wood engravings include landscapes and figurative designs, and show great precision and assurance [as in “Decoration for a prospectus published by the Golden Cockerel Press”, 1934]. The ceramic designs include commemorative mugs, tableware, “Alphabet” nursery ware, 1937, a “Boat Race Day” bowl, 1938, and a “Garden Implements” jug, 1939.
Appointed an official war artist, Ravilious created many of the works for which he is best known. Unlike contemporaries he does not focus on the horrors of war, once again mostly looking at military machines, planes [“Tiger Moth”, 1942], vessels [“Submarines in Dry Dock”, 1940, “Rainbow and Camouflaged Ships”, 1942] and guns firing at distant targets [“HMS Ark Royal in Action”, 1940, “Firing a 9.2 Gun”, 1941]. Only rarely do figures appear [“Coastal Defences” and “Dangerous Work at Low Tide”, both 1940].
In 1942 he was in an Air Sea Rescue flight in Iceland dispatched to search for another seaplane. It never returned and he was one of only three official war artists to die in action. An excellent catalogue for a key mid-20th British artist.
For the price, I felt this book was really good value for money. I'm wasn't too interested in the design of the ceramics (although they seemed to be the same kind of thing by Grandmother and my Great Aunt seemed to own ) yet the wood cut images also featured in the book seemed to evoke a wonderful feeling of nostalgia where, during the inter-war years, the artistic community seemed to be inspired by the hope of an optimistic future as well as an idealised past. This sentiment echoes itself most obviously within the paintings of the English countryside. For me, this is where the book scores highly and naïve quality of some of the artwork, especially in the idiosyncratic approach to angles and perspective, adds immeasurably to the charm. The later war paintings are notable for the absence of people and the appearance of old aeroplanes like Tiger Moths, Spitfires and Walruses become slightly surreal and fascinating under Ravilious' brush.
The first third of the book explains a lot about the development of this artist's style and charts his work through the 1920's through to the early years of World War Two. This text is informative yet I think that the paintings are best left to do the talking.
As a novice to books about art, I quite liked this and the work within certainly conjures up the spirit of the 1930's like nothing else I am aware of other than the jazz from that era. I was fascinated by the subject and it makes for a marked contrast with a contemporary artist like Romain Hugault's whose books of aircraft pictures offer a more technical but less serious approach to painting. This book was a nice introduction to the work of an artist who truly captured the spirit of his age.
If he had survived there is no doubt that British post-war art would have been very different. Because Ravilious was single-handedly reconciling watercolour to the modern movement, crafting the most sophisticated compositions that merged landscape concerns with contemporary values.
This superbly illustrated book delivers a useful overview of Ravilious's working life and creative achievement, plotting out his contributions to art, illustration and design. The selection, number, size and quality of colour plates is superb and make this handsome publication an essential addition to any library covering English art in mid century.
(This book is a companion work to John Piper: The Forties)