Edward Bawden

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Bawden is famous for his large-scale linocuts, which are masterpieces of design: bold inventive images, focussing on the basic characteristics of a subject, as seen in ‘Brighton Pier’ (1958), ‘The Pagoda, Kew Gardens’ (1963) and ‘Nine London Monuments’ (1966), which nevertheless are incredibly complex in their execution. He was experimental within a traditional medium and could create texture through a mixture of paint-stripper and use of wire brush, supplemented with an almost painterly application of ink on a roller. He might also cut small blocks to generate localised areas of colour within a print.

article on Bawden’s multiblock technique from VandA

Life

• 1903 Born at Braintree, Essex, the only child of Edward Bawden (ironmonger) and Eleanor Bawden (nee Game). His parents were Methodist Christians. A solitary child he spent much time drawing or wandering with butterfly-net and microscope.
• 1910 at the age of seven he was enrolled at Braintree High School. Later his parents paid for him to attend the Friends’ School at Saffron Walden
• 1919-1921 on leaving school at 16 he attended the Cambridge Municipal Art School (now Anglia Ruskin University).
• 1922 awarded a scholarship to the Royal College of Art School of Design in London, where he took a diploma in illustration until 1925.
• 1932 he married Charlotte Epton, who had been a fellow-student at the Royal College.They would have two children – Joanna (b. 1935) and Richard (b. 1936)both of whom would become artists. At first the couple lived in a flat in Hammersmith, but soon moved to a Georgian house in Great Bardfield, Essex, only a few miles from Braintree, where Bawden was born.
• 1970 After the death of his wife in 1970, Bawden moved to the nearby town of Saffron Walden, where he continued to work until his death.
• 1989 He died at home on 21 November, aged eighty-six.
Influences

• drawings of cats by Louis Wain,
• illustrations in boys’ and girls’ magazines
• Burne Jones’s illustrations of Malory’s Morte d’Arthur.
• calligraphy
• Aubrey Beardsley,
• Richard Doyle,
• William Morris and other Victorians.Here he met his fellow student and future collaborator, Eric Ravilious fellow student and collaborator in London
• Paul Nash his teacher in London

Early work

By 1925 Bawden was working one day a week for the Curwen Press (as was Ravilious and their former tutor, Nash), producing illustrations for leading accounts such as London Transport, Westminster Bank, Twinings, Poole Potteries and Shell-Mex.

In 1928, Bawden was commissioned by Sir Joseph Duveen at the rate of £1 per day to create a mural for the Refectory at Morley College, London with Ravilious and Charles Mahoney. The mural was opened in 1930 by former Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, at the time leader of the opposition, having ended his premiership in 1929.

In the early 1930s he was discovered by the famous Stuart Advertising Agency, owned by H. Stuart Menzies and Marcus Brumwell. At this time Bawden produced some of his most humorous and innovative work for Fortnum & Mason and Imperial Airways. It was also in this period that Bawden produced the tiles for the London Underground, which were exhibited at the International Building Trades Exhibition at Olympia in April 1928.

1930s Following his move to the country began to paint more, in addition to his commercial design work, developing his watercolour technique. Most of his subjects were of scenes around Great Bardfield. He held an exhibition of his Essex watercolours at the Zwemmer Gallery in 1934, and another show of his paintings was held at the Leicester Galleries in 1938.

In 1938 he collaborated with John Aldridge, who also lived in the village, on a range of wallpapers, intended to be printed commercially, but from lino blocks handcut by the designers. The project left little other time for other work during the year, and war intervened, before the papers could go into production.

War artist

During the Second World War, Edward Bawden served as official war artist, first with the British army in France, and then, following the army’s evacuation from there, in the Middle East.He made many evocative watercolour paintings recording the war effort in Iraq. Some show the unique life led by the Marsh Arabs in southern Iraq, particularly their dwellings made of reeds.

Later work

While living at Bardfield he was an important member of the Great Bardfield Artists. This group of local artists were diverse in style but shared a love for figurative art, making the group distinct from the better known St Ives art community in Cornwall, who, after the war, were chiefly dominated by abstractionists.

In 1949 Bawden provided illustrations for the book “London is London – A Selection of Prose and Verse by D. M. Low”.

During the 1950s the Great Bardfield Artists organised a series of large ‘open house’ exhibitions which attracted national press attention. Positive reviews and the novelty of viewing art works in the artists own homes (including Bawden’s Brick House) led to thousands visiting the remote village during the summer exhibitions of 1954, 1955 and 1958. As well as these shows the Great Bardfield Artists held several touring exhibitions of their work in 1957, 1958 and 1959.
Bawden’s work can be seen in many major collections and is shown regularly at the Fry Art Gallery in Shelford, Cambridgeshire.

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