Eric William Ravilious (1903 – 1942) was an English painter, designer, book illustrator and wood engraver. He grew up in East Sussex. He was educated at Eastbourne School of Art and then at the Royal College of Art (1922–5), where he was taught by Paul Nash and became close friends with Edward Bawden. His watercolour landscapes and rural interiors often featured the downland and coast of southern England; haunting and lyrical, these works show a world in suspense and often feature chalk hill figures, and empty rooms (e.g. Farmhouse Bedroom, 1939; London, V&A). He achieves an amazing feeling of light. In 1939 he became a War Artist, and during World War II he depicted such subjects as De-iceing Aircraft (c. 1942; London, Imp. War Mus.). He died while observing a sea rescue mission.
Apart from a brief experimentation with oils in 1930 – inspired by the works of Johan Zoffany – Ravilious painted almost entirely in watercolour. He was especially inspired by the landscape of the South Downs around Beddingham. He frequently returned to Furlongs, the cottage of Peggy Angus. He said that his time there “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 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. From here he painted some of how most powerful watercolours.
Ravilious engraved more than 400 illustrations and drew over 40 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’ Almanacksince 1938. His style of wood-engraving was greatly influenced by that of Thomas Bewick. He in turn influenced other wood engravers, such as Gwenda Morgan who also depicted scenes in the South Downs and was commissioned by the Golden Cockerel Press.
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, mostly of shop interiors, for a book called High Street, with text by J. M. Richards. Following a trip in a submarine in the war he produced Submarine Dream, a set of 11 lithographs.
Design and ceramics
In February 1936, Ravilious held his second exhibition at the Zwemmer Gallery and again it was a success, with 28 out of the 36 paintings shown being sold. This exhibition also led to a commission from Wedgwood to for ceramic designs. His work for them included a commemorative mug to mark the abortive coronation of Edward VIII; the design was revised for the coronation ofGeorge 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. He also undertook glass designs for Stuart Crystal in 1934, graphic advertisements for London Transport and furniture work for Dunbar Hay in 1936. Ravilious and Bawden were both active in the campaign by the Artists’ International Association to support the Republican cause in the Spanish Civil War. Throughout 1938 and 1939, Ravilious spent time working in Wales, the south of France and at Aldeburgh to prepare works for his third one-man show, which was held at the Arthur Tooth & Sons Gallery in 1939.