Eric William Ravilious (22 July 1903 – 2 September 1942) was an English painter, designer, book illustrator and wood engraver. He grew up in Sussex, and is particularly known for his watercolours of the South Downs. He served as a war artist, and died when the aircraft he was on was lost off Iceland.
Ravilious was born on 22 July 1903 in Churchfield Road, Acton, London, the son of Frank Ravilious and his wife Emma (née Ford). While he was still a small child the family moved to Eastbourne in Sussex, where his parents ran an antique shop.
He was educated at Eastbourne Grammar school. In 1919 he won a scholarship to Eastbourne School of Art and in 1922 another to study at the Design School at the Royal College of Art. There he became close friends with Edward Bawden and, from 1924, studied under Paul Nash. Nash, an enthusiast for wood engraving, encouraged him in the technique, and was impressed enough by his work to propose him for membership of the Society of Wood Engravers in 1925, and helped him to get commissions.
In 1925 he received a travelling scholarship to Italy and visited Florence, Siena, and the hill towns of Tuscany. Following this he began teaching part-time at the Eastbourne School of Art, and from 1930 taught (also part-time) at the Royal College of Art. In the same year he married Eileen Lucy "Tirzah" Garwood (1908-1951) also a noted artist and engraver.
Between 1930 and 1932 the couple lived in Hammersmith, London, where there is a blue plaque on the wall of their house at the corner of Upper Mall and Weltje Road. In 1932 they moved to rural Essex where they initially lodged with Edward Bawden at Great Bardfield. In 1934 they purchased Bank House at Castle Hedingham, and a blue plaque now commemorates this. They had three children: John Ravilious; the photographer James Ravilious; and Anne Ullmann, editor of books on her parents and their work.
In 1928 Ravilious and Bawden painted a mural at Morley College in South London on which they worked for a whole year. Their work was described by J. M. Richards as "sharp in detail, clean in colour, with an odd humour in their marionette-like figures" and "a striking departure from the conventions of mural painting at that time". It was destroyed by bombing in 1941.
Printmaking and illustration
Ravilious engraved more than four hundred illustrations and drew over forty lithographic designs for books and publications during his lifetime. His first commission, in 1926, was to illustrate a novel for Jonathan Cape. He went on to produce work both for large companies such as the Lanston Corporation and smaller, less commercial publishers, such as the Golden Cockerel Press (for whom he illustrated an edition of Twelfth Night), the Curwen Press and the Cresset Press. His woodcut of two Victorian gentlemen playing cricket has appeared on the front cover of every edition of Wisden Cricketers' Almanack since 1938. His style of wood-engraving was greatly influenced by that of Thomas Bewick.
In the mid-1930s he took up lithography, making a print of Newhaven Harbour for the "Contemporary Lithographs" scheme, and a set of full-page lithographs for a book called High Street, with text by J. M. Richards.
In 1936 Ravilious was invited by Wedgwood to make designs for ceramics. His work for them included a commemorative mug to mark the coronation of Edward VIII, which was revised for the coronation of George VI. Other popular Ravilious designs included the Alphabet mug of 1937, and the china sets, Afternoon Tea (1938), Travel (1938), and Garden Implements (1939) plus the Boat Race Day cup in 1938. Production of Ravilious' designs continued into the 1950s, with the coronation mug design being posthumously reworked for the coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953. Ravilious also undertook glass designs for Stuart Crystal in 1934, graphic advertisements for London Transport and furniture work for Dunbar Hay in 1936.
He was especially inspired by the landscape of the South Downs around Beddingham. He frequently returned to Furlongs, the cottage of Peggy Angus. He considered that his time at Furlongs "...altered my whole outlook and way of painting, I think because the colour of the landscape was so lovely and the design so beautifully obvious ... that I simply had to abandon my tinted drawings". Some of his most famous works, such as Tea at Furlongs, were painted there.
Ravilious was accepted as a full-time salaried artist by the War Artists' Advisory Committee in December 1939. He was given the rank of Honorary Captain in the Royal Marines and assigned to the Admiralty. In February 1940, he reported to the Royal Naval barracks at Chatham. Whilst based there he painted ships at the dockside, barrage balloons at Sheerness and other coastal defences. Dangerous Work at Low Tide, 1940 depicts bomb disposal experts approaching a German magnetic mine on Whitstable Sands. Two members of the team Ravilious painted were later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. On 24 May 1940 Ravilious sailed to Norway aboard HMS Highlander which was escorting HMS Glorious and the force being sent to recapture Narvik. Highlander returned to Scapa Flow before departing for Norway a second time on 31 May, 1940. From the deck of Highlander, Ravilious painted scenes of both HMS Ark Royal and HMS Glorious in action. HMS Glorious in the Arctic depicts Hawker Hurricanes and Gloster Gladiators landing on the deck of Glorious as part of the evacuation of forces from Norway on the night of 7/8 June. The following night, Glorious was sunk with great loss of life.
On returning from Norway, Ravilious was posted to Portsmouth from where he painted submarine interiors at Gosport and coastal defences at Newhaven. In 1941 he spent six months at Dover and then transferred to Scotland in October. At first Ravilious stayed with John Nash and his wife at their cottage on the Firth of Forth and painted convoy subjects from the signal station on the Isle of May. At the Royal Naval Air Station in Dundee, Ravilious drew, and sometimes flew in, the Supermarine Walrus seaplanes based there. In early 1942, Ravilious was posted to York but shortly afterwards was allowed to return home to Essex when his wife was taken ill. There he worked on his York paintings and requested a posting to a nearby RAF base whilst his wife recovered. He spent a short time at RAF Debden before moving to RAF Sawbridgeworth in Hertfordshire. At Sawbridgeworth he began flying regularly in the Tiger Moths based at the flying school there and would sketch other planes in flight from the rear cockpit of the plane.
On 28 August 1942 Ravilious flew to Reykjavik and then travelled on to RAF Station Kaldadarnes. The day he arrived there, September 1, a Lockheed Hudson aircraft had failed to return from a patrol. The next morning three planes were despatched at dawn to search for the missing plane and Ravilious opted to join one of the crews. The plane he was on also failed to return and after four days of further searching, the RAF declared Ravilious and the four-man crew lost in action.
In 1946, his widow married Henry Swanzy.
- Frances Spalding (1990). 20th Century Painters and Sculptors. Antique Collectors' Club. ISBN 1 85149 106 6.
- Constable, 1982, p. 14.
- Constable, 1982, p. 16.
- Constable, 1982, p. 17.
- Constable, 1982, p. 11.
- Ian Chilvers (Editor) (1988). The Oxford Dictionary of Art. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-860476-9.
- Richards, J.M. (1946). Edward Bawden. The Penguin Modern Painters. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. p. 8.
- Constable, 1982, p. 22.
- Edward Bawden, Design. Antique Collector's Club, Woodbridge, England. ISBN 1-85149-500-2.
- Constable, 1982, p. 21.
- "20 things you never knew about Wisden". Cricinfo. Retrieved 19 August 2009.
- Constable, 1982, p. 29.
- Geraldine Bedell (7 December 2003). "Bring me the admiral's bicycle". Observer. Retrieved 1 January 2014.
- Freda Constable. "Artist biography Eric Ravilious". Tate. Retrieved 1 January 2014.
- Jenkins, Stephen (2001). Ceramics of the '50s and '60s. London: Miller's. pp. 8–9.
- East Sussex Record Office: Report of the County Archivist, April 2006 to March 2007. August 2007. Retrieved 19 January 2009.
- Imperial War Museum. "War artists archive:Eric Ravilious". Imperial War Museum. Retrieved 1 January 2014.
- Ministry of Defence. "Ministry of Defence Art Collection". The Ministry of Defence. Retrieved 1 January 2014.
- James Russell (2010). Ravilious In Pictures, The War Paintings. The Mainstone Press. ISBN 978-0955277740.
- Casualty Details: Ravilious, Eric William, Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
- Constable, Freda (1982). 'The England of Eric Ravilious'. London: Scolar Press.
- Jeremy Greenwood, Ravilious Engravings (2008. Wood Lea Press) [catalogue raisonnee]
- Alan Powers, James Russell, Eric Ravilious: the Story of High Street (2008)
- Alan Powers, Oliver Green. Away We Go! Advertising London's Transport: Eric Ravilious & Edward Bawden (2006)
- Alan Powers. Eric Ravilious: Imagined Realities (2004)
- Freda Constable. The England of Eric Ravilious (2003)
- Richard Morphet. Eric Ravilious in Context (2002)
- Submarine dream: Lithographs and letters (1996)
- Robert Harling. Ravilious and Wedgwood: The Complete Wedgwood Designs of Eric Ravilious (1995), ISBN 978-0903685382
- Helen Binyon. Eric Ravilious. Memoir of an Artist; The Lutterworth Press 2007, Cambridge; ISBN 978-0-7188-2920-9
- R. Dalrymple. Ravilious and Wedgwood (1986. London)
- Eric Ravilious, 1903-42: A Re-assessment of his Life and Work (exh. cat. by P. Andrew, Eastbourne Towner A.G. & Local History Museum) (1986)
- Helen Binyon, Eric Ravilious: Memoir of an Artist (1983) (reprinted 2007)
- Freda Constable and Sue Simon, The England of Eric Ravilious (1982)
- J. M. Richards, The Wood Engravings of Eric Ravilious (1972)
- Anne Ullmann (ed.) Ravilious at War: the complete work of Eric Ravilious, September 1939 - September 1942, contributions from Barry and Saria Viney, Christopher Whittick and Simon Lawrence, foreword by Brian Sewell. Huddersfield, Fleece (2002) ISBN 0-948375-70-1
- James Russell, Ravilious in Pictures: Sussex and the Downs, (edited by Tim Mainstone), Mainstone Press, Norwich (2009); ISBN 9780955277733
- James Russell, Ravilious in Pictures: A Country Life, (edited by Tim Mainstone), Mainstone Press, Norwich (2011); ISBN 0955277760
- James Russell, Ravilious in Pictures: A Travelling Artist, (edited by Tim Mainstone), Mainstone Press, Norwich (2012); ISBN 978-0955277788
- James Russell, Ravilious: Submarine, (edited by Tim Mainstone), Mainstone Press, Norwich (2013); ISBN 978-0955277795
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Eric Ravilious.|