Edwin Smith in Pompeii

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It seams more and more in ‘second hand books’ that the photographic content and illustrations are boosting prices more than the topic of books themselves – easy examples are High Street by J. M. Richards, or anything with an Edward Bawden or John Minton dust jacket, it’s a mad rush for any artistic ephemera. But it extends to what were cheap magazines with articles by John Nash or Graham Sutherland, once they were disposed in the bin, now they are rare and so are getting expensive. Times past, there were high class standards like Verve or Derrière le miroir but a copy of The Country Life Cookery Book from 1937 can now equal those prices.

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This week I bought a book of ‘Pompeii and Herculaneum’ by Marcel Brion. Noting what I wrote above, I am more interested in the artistic content of the book rather than the subject matter, but happily I am interested in history and archaeology too. This book is full of the photography of Edwin Smith.

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As it happens, books with the photos of Edwin Smith seam to be very cheap, due to how popular he was in the 1950s and 60s. There were many reprints and print runs so you can find good copies on Amazon for 1p, or £2.81 with postage – but still a pittance. There are a Thames & Hudson series of books co-written with Edwin Smith’s wife Olive Cook too; English Parish Churches (1952) and English Cottages Farmhouses (1954) being the most popular and thus, cheap to buy. I bought ‘Pompeii and Herculaneum’ for £2.99 in a charity shop.

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In the introduction Brion writes ‘I am indebted to Mr. Edwin Smith for his photography which I trust the reader will find as brilliantly evocative as I myself do’.

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Edwin George Herbert Smith (15 May 1912 – 29 December 1971) was an English photographer. He was born in Canonbury, Islington, London, the only child of Edwin Stanley Smith, a clerk, and his wife Lily Beatrice. After leaving school he was educated at the Northern Polytechnic, transferring to the architectural school at the age of sixteen. He then won a scholarship to the Architectural Association, but gave up his course and worked as a draughtsman for several years.

He became a freelance photographer in 1935, working briefly for Vogue as a fashion photographer. However he concentrated his artistic efforts on subjects such as the mining community of Ashington in Northumberland, the docks of Newcastle, and circuses and fairgrounds around London.

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Smith was also a prolific artist. He produced water and oil paintings, drawings, linocuts and woodcuts throughout his life, and in later years at Saffron Walden, he drew up architectural plans for local properties.

He became ill in the spring of 1971, but cancer was not diagnosed until a few weeks before his death on 29 December. It was only after his death that exhibitions of Smith’s work appeared, with a monograph finally being published in 1984.

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After Cook’s own death in 2002, her papers and some of those of her husband were placed in Newnham College Archives, Cambridge.

A collection of over 60,000 negatives and 20,000 prints were given by Olive Cook, Smith’s widow and collaborator, to the Royal Institute of British Architects Library. From urban scenes documenting British social history to evocative landscape images and atmospheric interiors, the images displayed reveal the genius and breadth of his work.

Edwin Smith was also an avid collector and creator of Toy Theatre. On his wife’s death, the collection passed to the Pollock’s Toy Museum Trust. A collection of his paintings, woodcuts and photographs is held by The Fry Gallery.

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Plainly Pastoral – James Ravilious

Below is a piece on James Ravilious, written 20 years ago in ‘World of Interiors’, March 1996 by Ronald Blythe. The pictures are the same as in the magazine. 

I was inspired to type it up after having gone to see a show of James Ravilious’s works at the Fry Gallery, running from 18th June – 24th July (2016). The exhibition’s booklet has a quote by Olive Cook from Matrix Magazine #18: "I know of no other presentation of a particular place and people which is as broad and as captivating as James Ravilious’s photographs of North Devon. They are the fruit of a quite exceptional acuity and patience of witness and of a quite unusual humility and warmth of spirit. This great body of work establishes its author as a master of the art of photography whilst at the same time it makes an unparalleled pictorial contribution to social history.

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 James Ravilious – Young Bulls eating Thistles

Plainly Pastoral – James Ravilious. World of Interiors. March 1996.

For over 20 years photographer James Ravilious has captured on camera powerfully candid images of rural North Devon life for the Beaford Archive. A Corner of England, a new book of his pictures, is full of ‘private moments’ photographed without pathos. 

This second collection of James Ravilious’s work has to be studied for three distinct reasons. Because it is in the great tradition of Henri Cartier-Bresson, because it corrects our distorted vision the English countryside, and because it reveals the poetry of the commonplace. In 1973 Ravilious was invited to restore and add to the Beaford Archive, a remarkable library of photographs of village life in North Devon. This wonderful book shows him way ahead of his commission. His Leica records his own intimacy with the region, its landscape, its people, its creatures. No ordinary journalist or social historian could have gained

Ravilious’s entree to these extraordinarily private rooms and fields, or be taught to see what he so naturally sees. 

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 James Ravilious – ‘Dr Paul Bangay visiting a patient, Langtree, Devon 1981

The book’s pictures have been drawn from his own contribution to the Beaford Archive and he describes them as ‘rather like scenes from a tapestry I have been stitching over the years’. His wife Robin, a local girl, contributes a few hard facts. ‘The small mixed farm is the commonest unit still. Short of labour, short of capital, bothered by paperwork and recession, farmers struggle stoically in a cold soil, high rainfall and awkward upland terrain…

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 James Ravilious – Pigs and woodpile, Parsonage Farm

Ravilious’s camera scrupulously avoids wringing the usual bitter-sweet agricultural drama out of this situation and his work is masterly in its absence of comment.He has a way of capturing a private moment without making it public, so to speak. So the reader/looker has to share his intimate views if they are to see anything at all. As one stares into these twisting lanes, farmyards, churchyards, bedrooms, kitchens, animals’ faces, sheds, shops, schools, one often feels apologetic at invading something so personal, then grateful for having been shown what is actual, true and good. 

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 James Ravilious – Red Devon cow, Narracott, Hollocombe, Devon, England, 1981

This is a rural world without ‘characters’, only people. Not even the old tramp sunning himself amidst the rubbish tip of his belongings is a character – just a naked man on the earth. Nor do the farm animals set out to beguile but are captured without sentiment. A snowdrift of geese on a darkening hilltop and a dog on a blackening road are waiting for the first thunderclap. A sick ram rides home in a tin bath. Here is the ordinariness of the harsh and lovely pastoral. The Ravilious ‘interior’, whether of houses or hills, can shock or inspire- usually both. A rare country book. – Ronald Blythe.

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 James Ravilious – 

Storm Clouds with Geese

– ‘A Corner of England: North Devon Landscapes and People’ by James Ravilious. Lutterworth Press.

The wallpaper designs of Edward Bawden.

Mainstream British wallpaper design regressed dramatically between the wars, bogged down in a sea of ‘porridge’. But the artist Edward Bawden made a valiant attempt to redeem the medium. ‡

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 Roy Hammans photo of Edward Bawden’s Saffron Walden House for the Fry Gallery.

Bawden, studied at the Cambridge School of Art (1919–1921), then moved on to the Royal College of Art. It was here where he studied alongside Eric Ravilious and both were tutored by Paul Nash.

Nash’s connections to Harold Curwen meant that in 1928 when the Curwen Press published ‘A Specimen Book of Curwen Pattern Papers’ — (It was a book of patterned papers for bookbinding and shop wrap and boxes)… Bawden’s work was included alongside Ravilious, Enid Marx, Paul Nash and Althea Willoughby.

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 A Sample book covered in the Pattern Papers with ‘A Specimen Book of Curwen Pattern Papers’ behind, 1928

After his time at the RCA Bawden started to experiment with wallpaper designs. In his book ‘Edward Bawden and His Circle’ Malcolm Yorke describes the lino process:

After drawing the design in a soft pencil on thin paper it could be laid face down on a whitened sheet of lino and the design transferred by rubbing with a spoon. Cutting with a Japanese knife then began from the middle towards the edges, the knife becoming a drawing instrument as the hand became more skilled. Compared to cutting end-grain boxwood for wood-engraving, warmed lino sliced like butter.

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 Edward Bawden – Bird Nest and Ivy Leaves, 1924

The first known work was never produced industrially, and exists only as a trial print called ‘Bird Nest and Ivy Leaves’ from 1924. Other designs by Bawden followed:

His approach to wallpaper was very much that of a graphic artist. Initially he used lino-printing to produce his own designs, but from 1926 the Curwen Press produced his patterns in the form of colour lithographs.

 Edward Bawden – Ashlar, 1930

It was these designs from 1926 – 1933 that were produced in lithograph by the Curwen Press. Unlike most modern wallpapers, printed on long rolls of paper, the Curwen Press printed these wallpapers as sheets, in sizes up to about 34 x 22 ins. Very few of these sheets survive unused. The reason for printing in sheet form was that the lithographic machines could not support the long rolls of paper. The traditional way of printing wallpapers being to screen print the design or print direct onto the blank role from the woodblock.

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 Edward Bawden – Sahara, 1928

The wallpapers printed by the Curwen Press were known as the Plaistow Wallpapers, as the press was based in Plaistow Place, London. With them being printed, “Paul Nash introduced Bawden to Elspeth Little and her ‘Modern Textiles’ shop in Beauchamp Place for a sales outlet, but his royalties over six years and sales of 507 sheets came to a miserly £2. 0s. Lod.” Soon after other shops started to sell them, including: Heals, Fortnum & Mason and Gordon Russell’s furniture shop.

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 Plaistow Wallpaper Advert.

Façade sold a total of 3,899 sheets. While ‘Façade’ might be thought just a neutral title, is it possible that it could have been in the artist’s mind because of the popularity around that time of William Walton’s musical suites of that name, based on Edith Sitwell’s poems. Frederick Ashton’s ballet of Faade was premiered in 1931.

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 Edward Bawden – Façade, 1933

Bawden’s approach of comic and country images was a shift in British wallpaper design. Some of them form geometric beautiful patterns and others make your walls into giant linocut pictures as you can see from Bawden’s own home.

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 Edward Bawden – Rose & Lace, 1938

In the 1930’s Bawden was given the chance to print wallpapers by the Roll and not sheets! This range was called the ‘Bardfield Wallpapers’, after the Great Bardfield artist community, these wallpapers where a range by Cole and Son, with designs by Bawden and John Aldridge. The designs were originally developed in 1939, but commercial production was interrupted by the war. The early versions were printed direct from the wood and lino blocks. Some of the designs were exhibited that year at The Little Gallery off Sloane Square in London, but they were not produced commercially until 1946, after the War.

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 Edward Bawden – Knole Park, 1929

Although the designs were popular, and some were featured in the Festival of Britain in 1951, they were produced in limited quantities to order, and were relatively expensive.

Bawden’s best-known design, Woodpigeon (1927), featured vignettes of birds and church spires emerging through windows in a “wallpaper” of leafy trees. Similarly, in Knole Park (1929) with primitive rural vignettes. These were initially lino-printed [sic] but the blocks were acquired by Cole & Sons in 1946. † 

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 Edward Bawden – Wood Pigeon, 1927

List of Edward Bawden Wallpapers by Year:

1924 — Bird Nest and Ivy Leaves – Curwen Press
1926 –  Fruit and Napkin – Curwen Press
1927  Deer and Leaf – Curwen Press
1927  Pigeon and Clock Tower – Curwen Press
1927  Tree and Cow – Curwen Press
1928  Sahara  – Curwen Press
1928  Mermaid (and Whale)Curwen Press
1928 – Waves Curwen Press
1929  – Knole Park Design – Curwen Press
1929  Lagoon – Curwen Press
1929  – Riviera – Curwen Press
1929 – Conservatory  – Curwen Press
1930 – Waves and Fish Curwen Press
1930 – Leaf or Seaweed – Curwen Press
1933 – Ashlar Plaistow Wallpapers
1933 Node Plaistow Wallpapers
1933 Façade Plaistow Wallpapers
1933 – SalverPlaistow Wallpapers
1938  – Flute – Bardfield Wallpapers
1938  – Waffle / Grid / Cross – Bardfield Wallpapers
1938 
Grid & Cross  – Bardfield Wallpapers
1938Stone Ivy – Bardfield Wallpapers
1938  – Grass & Swan – Bardfield Wallpapers
1938  – Rose & Lace – Bardfield Wallpapers
1938  –  Ogee (Gothic)  – Bardfield Wallpapers
1938 Trellis (Periwinkle) – Bardfield Wallpapers
1946  – Quatrefoil  – Cole and Son
1950’s  – Swan & Grass
1956 –
Abstract Linear Design – for Sandersons

Malcolm Yorke – Edward Bawden and his Circle  p.54
Lesley Jackson – Twentieth Century Pattern Design  p.74