|Born||Gwendolen Mary Darwin
26 August 1885
|Died||11 February 1957
|Resting place||Trumpington Extension Cemetery, Cambridge|
|Residence||Newnham Grange, Cambridge|
|Alma mater||Slade School of Fine Art|
|Notable work(s)||Period Piece (autobiography)|
|Spouse(s)||Jacques Raverat (m. 1911–25)|
|Children||Elisabeth (b. 1916)
Sophie Jane (b. 1919)
Maud du Puy
Gwen Mary Darwin was born in Cambridge in 1885, part of the very influential Darwin–Wedgwood family. She was the daughter of George Howard Darwin and his wife Maud du Puy. She was the granddaughter of the naturalist Charles Darwin and first cousin of the poet Frances Cornford.
She married the French painter Jacques Raverat in 1911. They were active in the Bloomsbury Group and Rupert Brooke's Neo-Pagan group until they moved to the south of France, where they lived in Vence, near Nice, until his death from multiple sclerosis in 1925. They had two daughters: Elisabeth (born 1916), who married the Norwegian politician Edvard Hambro, and Sophie Jane (born 1919), who married the Cambridge scholar M.G.M. Pryor and later Charles Gurney.
She is buried in the Trumpington Extension Cemetery, Cambridge with her father Sir George Darwin; while her mother Lady Maud Darwin was cremated at Cambridge Crematorium on February 10, 1947. Her uncles Sir Francis Darwin and Sir Horace Darwin and first cousin Frances Cornford are buried in the nearby Parish of the Ascension Burial Ground.
Cambridge and the people associated with it remained very much the centre of her life. Darwin College, Cambridge, occupies both her childhood home, Newnham Grange, and the neighbouring Old Granary where she lived for the last years of her life. The college has named one of its student accommodation houses after her.
Raverat was one of the very first wood engravers recognised as modern. She went to the Slade School in 1908, but stood outside the groups growing up at the time, the group that gathered around Eric Gill at Ditchling and the group that grew up at the Central School of Arts and Crafts around Noel Rooke. She was influenced by the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists and developed her own painterly style of engraving. There was some similarity between her early engravings and those of Gill, and she did know Gill, but the similarity was based mostly on her black line style at the time, influenced by Lucien Pissarro, and the semi-religious themes that she then chose.
One of her first wood engravings to appear in a book was Lord Thomas and Fair Annet in The Open Window (1911), which also featured a wood engraving by Noel Rooke.
Balston credits her with having produced one of the first two books illustrated with modern wood engravings. This was Spring Morning by her cousin Frances Cornford, published by the Poetry Bookshop in 1915. It was accessioned at the British Library in May 1915, which makes it the first modern book illustrated with wood engravings, as the other contender, The Devil's Devices illustrated by Eric Gill, was accessioned in December 1915.
In 1922 she contributed two wood engravings to Contemporary English Woodcuts, an anthology of wood engravings produced by Thomas Balston, a director at Duckworth and an enthusiast for the new style of wood engravings. Campbell Dodgson, Keeper of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum, wrote about her in his introduction to the book: Mr. Greenwood excels in the delicate and minute work in white line upon black, which has also won the admiration of many collectors for the earlier wood engravings of Mrs. Raverat. Much of Raverat's work was for friends from Cambridge and appeared in books with small editions. She found a wider public with the London Mercury which reproduced many of her engravings. The most famous are perhaps the engravings Six Rivers Round London which were produced for the London General Omnibus Company.
Most of Raverat's commissions for book illustrations date from the 1930s. The first was for a set of engravings for Kenneth Grahame's classic anthology The Cambridge Book of Poetry for Children (1932). This was published by the Cambridge University Press and printed at the press by Walter Lewis. The Cambridge University Press took almost as much care with their printing as a private press, and Lewis printed the wood engravings from the original blocks. He printed four more books for Raverat - Mountains and Molehills by Frances Cornford (1934), Four Tales from Hans Andersen, a new version by R. P. Keigwin (1935), The Runaway by Elizabeth A. Hart (1936) and The Bird Talisman by H. A. Wedgwood (1939). Four Tales and The Bird Talisman were illustrated with colour wood engravings. Brooke Crutchley, Lewis's successor at the press, was responsible for printing the collection of Raverat's work by Reynolds Stone and described the care taken over printing from old warped blocks.
Her experience of a real private press, St John Hornby's Ashendene Press, was rather more mixed. Raverat spent a year producing 29 wood engravings for an edition of Les Amours de Daphne et Chloe by Longus. It appeared in 1933, five years after the project started. The first edition had been printed on Japanese vellum, but was scrapped when the ink failed to dry properly.
In 1934 she produced a set of engravings for Farmer’s Glory by A. G. Street (1934), perhaps her best known work. Cottage Angles by Norah C. James (1935) reused engravings produced for Time and Tide. She illustrated Sentimental Journey by Laurence Sterne for Penguin Illustrated Classics in 1938. Her final wood engravings were for another private press, the Dropmore Press, for which she illustrated London Bookbinders 1780-1806 by E. Howe (1950).
She illustrated a number of books with line drawings, including Over The Garden Wall by Eleanor Farjeon (1933), Mustard, Pepper and Salt by Alison Uttley (1938), Red-Letter Holiday by Virginia Pye (1940), Crossings by Walter de la Mare (1942), Countess Kate by Charlotte M. Yonge (1948) and The Bedside Barsetshire by L. O. Tingay (1949).
Raverat, Cambridge and Period Piece
Apart from her studies at the Slade and the period from 1915 to 1928, which covered her life with Jacques and early widowhood, Raverat lived in or near Cambridge. In 1928 she moved into the Old Rectory, Harlton, near Cambridge. The house was the model for her engravings for The Runaway. In 1946 she moved into the Old Granary, Silver Street, in Cambridge; the house was at the end of the garden of Newnham Grange, where she was born.
Her life revolved around her contacts in Cambridge. One aspect was her work for the theatre, designing costumes, scenery and programmes. Her first experience was in 1908, when she designed costumes for Milton's Comus at the New Theatre, Cambridge. Her brother-in-law Geoffrey Keynes asked her to provide scenery and costumes for a proposed ballet drawn from William Blake's Illustrations of the Book of Job to commemorate the centennial of Blake's death; her second cousin, Ralph Vaughan Williams, wrote the music to the work which became known as Job, a masque for dancing, the premiere of which took place in Cambridge in 1931. The miniature stage set that she built as a model still exists, housed at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. She went on to design costumes, scenery and programmes for some ten productions, mostly for the Cambridge University Musical Society.
Raverat had a keen interest in children's fiction. Three of her books were Victorian stories that she convinced publishers to reprint - The Runaway, The Bird Talisman and Countess Kate. When she discovered that The Runaway had gone out of print, she convinced the publisher Duckworth to reissue it in 1953. Frances Spalding has written an illuminating article about this aspect of Raverat's life in the Guardian.
An overview of her life and work
Raverat played a significant part in the wood engraving revival in Britain at the beginning of the twentieth century. By 1914 she had completed some sixty wood engravings, far more than any of her contemporaries. Her name recurs consistently in all contemporary reviews, and the first book devoted to a modern wood engraver was Herbert Furst's Gwendolen Raverat. She illustrated the first book illustrated with modern wood engravings, Spring Morning, and she exhibited at every annual exhibition of the Society of Wood Engravers between 1920 and 1940, exhibiting 122 engravings, more than anyone else.
The Broughton House Gallery website reproduces a very comprehensive range of her engravings.
There are two collections of her work. The first, by Reynolds Stone, presents many of her engravings printed from the original blocks at the Cambridge University Press; the second, by Joanna Selborne and Lindsay Newman, presents some 75 engravings printed from the blocks at the Fleece Press, and has long listings of Raverat's work. There are cheaper trade editions of both these books. There is also a useful bibliography of her work by Selborne and Newman.
- Joanna Selborne, ‘The Society of Wood Engravers: the early years’ in Craft History 1 (1988), published by Combined Arts.
- Reynolds Stone, The Wood Engravings of Gwen Raverat (London, Faber & Faber, 1959).
- Thomas Balston, Wood-engraving in Modern English Books (London, National Book League, 1949).
- Campbell Dodgson, Contemporary English Woodcuts (London, Duckworth, 1922).
- L. M. Newman and D. A. Steel, Gwen and Jacques Raverat (Lancaster, University of Lancaster, 1989), ISBN 0-901272-64-7.
- Brooke Crutchley, To be a Printer (London, Bodley Head, 1980), ISBN 0-370-30304-0.
- The Guardian article by Frances Spalding on Gwen Raverat and children's fiction
- William Pryor, Virginia Woolf & the Raverats: a different sort of friendship (Bath, Clear Books, 2003), ISBN 1-904555-02-0.
- Herbert Furst, Modern Woodcutters 1: Gwendolen Raverat (London, Little Art Rooms, 1920).
- Papers relating to Gwen Raverat at the National Register of Archives
- Broughton House Gallery Archive of Raverat's wood engravings
- Joanna Selborne and Lindsay Newman, Gwen Raverat, wood engraver (Denby Dale, Fleece Press, 1996).
- "The Gwen Raverat Archive". raverat.com. 2013.
- Pryor, William (14 February 2009). "Gwen Raverat". williampryor.wordpress.com.
- Gwen Raverat at Find a Grave