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.“
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.
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…’
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.
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.
Today it is hard to ignore the artist effect of Eric Ravilious, the tide of books on him alone prove his popularity. This is an article from ‘The Artist’ magazine, March, 1943. It ends with a short record of his death, some weeks before. I thought it was interesting that its intention was a review of his life and works but became an obituary.
Eric Ravilious by Richard Seddon Artists of note: Number 97. The Artist Magazine. March 1943
Eric Ravilious – The Causeway, Wiltshire Downs, 1937
Paul Nash was the first to notice the work of Eric Ravilious. This happened when Ravilious was a student of the Royal College of art under the instruction of Nash in the school of design. His wood engraving impressed Paul Nash as being worthy of special attention, and it was on the latter’s introduction that Ravilious became a member of the Society of Wood Engravers. In the society’s exhibitions Ravilious’s engravings immediately drew attention from publishers and their agents. Ravilious illustrated several books and was soon established as a book illustrator of exceptional status.
Between that time and the present he has consolidated a reputation as a leader of contemporary art; not as a leader in figurative or influential, but rather in the most academic sense, of the advancement of research and knowledge. He does not supinely follow the present tendencies and work in a certain manner merely because that manner can be accepted as the logical outcome of the particular form of art and aesthetics accepted at the moment in the country. He does not look for what is being done nowadays, in order to do likewise.
Leadership in art, as in anything else, calls for the usual hackneyed attributes: courage, self-confidence, faith in purpose, and so on. But in art, somehow, as in anything abstract, it needs enthusiasm enough to keep it up in the face of that inexplicable hostility that people show in face of anything that is ‘new.’
In feeling and temperament the work of Ravilious is very English. Ravilious, unlike so many Englishmen, does not try to paint as though he were a Frenchman. His work has its roots deeply sunk into the life and the countryside and the culture of England. His water colours are the lineal descendants of the English eighteenth century school of water colour than in its time gave England a brief reign as a country important in the world’s art, a reign that lasted until the French impressionists wrested the sceptre for France, a reign into which, it is felt, England was re-entering at the beginning of this war, through the excellence of the contemporary school of English landscape, of which Ravilious is one of the most important members.
That, because of his very full knowledge of the history and methods of English art and design, he carries on the English tradition, is apparent in his work in any of the media he employs. His wood engravings revive and extend the essential tradition of Thomas Bewick and the English eighteenth century wood engravers. In his water colours he takes up the story where Peter de Wint, Paul Sandy, John White Abbott and their contemporaries left off, and carries it a stage farther, in the life of modern knowledge. Examples of his pottery design that he carried out for Wedgwood can take their place in the Victoria & Albert Museum, among the original products of Josiah as if by hereditary right.
It is not possible to select one or two influences that can be credited with the moulding of Ravilious’s vision. After leaving school in Eastbourne, he attended Eastbourne School of Art, from where he went up to the Royal College of Art, in London. There, under principal-ship of Sir William Rothenstein, he was tutored by some of the most important contemporary artists in the country. Naturally, the powerful influences of such men must have affected his outlook; indeed, they did. In addition he received, asI have said, an exhaustively comprehensive education in art and design, from which soure he derived the solution of those problems of expression that he always seems to face with courage and solve with ingenuity.
He might easily have been tossed for ears upon a sea of conflicting influences; if so, it happened when he was at the R.C.A., and the process was completed by the time he began his career as a practising artist. At least, no indecision has ever shown itself in the work of his maturity. that he owes something, as all artists, to skilful pilotage, can be safely assumed, but that he emerged with an original style is patently a logical result of his own personal outlook.
Eric Ravilious – Design for Coronation mug for Edward VIII, 1936.
He is thirty eight, and therefore can be said to have not yet reached the peak of his artistic maturity. As regards his work, whatever the medium he invariable approaches a subject with an open mind and embodies in the work, whether it is a wood engraving, a water colour, ceramics, or fabric design, at least one idea that arises from the needs of that particular job and no other. Of course he refers in his mind as he is thinking it out not only to history but to past works of his own to help in solving the problem of the moment, but he avoids any tendency to repeat successes of the past ad nauseam, giving the same colours, the same subtleties, the same textures and so on, whether or not they are the right ones for the present job. I stress the fact that he does not walk in such a manner because very many artists, both distinguished and otherwise, do so.
Ravilious never rests on his laurels. It cannot be said about a sequence of his work as it can of the work of other artists that, having seen one, you have seen them all. Though they are all built around the personality of the artist, each of his productions is sufficient unto itself.
Eric Ravilious – Rendering Mines Safe, 1940. (Now called Dangerous Work at Low Tide)
In a Ravilious exhibition, the paintings are, in the truest sense, variations on a theme and not repetitions. It is said that there are four different ways of looking at a picture, Firstly the observer might stand away and savour the emotional content and the subject matter.Secondly, he might appreciate the purely academic appeal, such as the colour harmony and the broad lines of the composition. Thirdly he might go near the picture and closely examine the technical minutiae: the brushwork, the qualities of the surface, the interplay of ‘fat’ and ‘lean’ painting, and so on. Fourthly, he might scrutinise, analytically, the patterns achieved by the painter, by the use of his range of different ways of coving a surface and of filling in a space.
The Victorian painters appealed to the first two methods, and many contemporary schools solely to the last two. A few contemporary painters, including Eric Ravilious, appeal to all four. Ravilious particularly appeals to the last. His textures and patterns, whatever the medium, are an important feature of his work. He composes as a rule within a tight linear framework, making spaces of carefully contrasted size and shape which he fills with textures that derive partly from the intrinsic textures of the original of the subject and largely from his own fertile imagination. The settings for his landscape painting have been the Downs and coast of Sussex, and localities in Essex, Wiltshire and Wales.
Apart from his war painting he confesses to a tendency to paint in sequences: groups of broken-down tractors and old cars and buses in fields, the discarded machinery of Essex. He has painted a series of Sussex hills, a set of chalk figures (such as the Aylesbury White Horse), a set of lighthouses, rowing boats, beds, beaches and greenhouses. Ravilious was educated at Eastbourne Grammar School. He left the Royal College of Art only to return in 1929 as instructor in design, which position he filled until 1938. Whilst a student at the college he and Edward Bawden completed a well known mural decoration in the refreshment room of Morley College, which was destroyed by a bomb.
Other important mural decorations by Ravilious are those in the circular room at the L.M.S. Hotel at Morecambe and the ceiling decorations in the dining hall of the new Merchant Taylors’ School. Since 1926 he has illustrated books for the Kynoch Press, mainly by wood engravings. His engravings have also illustrated Volume I of ‘Signature’ and Gilbert White’s ‘Selborne.’ From 1937 to 1939 he designed pottery for Wedgwood. One of the best known of these designs was the Coronation Mug. His designing for glass he dismisses as a mere gesture; as a gesture it was brief, but effective.
Exhibitions of the work of Ravilious were held at the Zwemmer Gallery in 1934 and 1937, and one at Tooth’s in 1939. Three of his water colour drawings are in the Victoria & Albert Museum, and there are others in the public galleries. At the beginning of the present war he was offered and he accepted an appointment as official war artist to the Admiralty. He holds with the rank of hon. captain in the Royal Marines.
Eric Ravilious – Lewis Gunner
Since this article was written, Eric Ravilious has been posted as ‘missing’. After spending a period in Iceland, in his capacity as official war artist, he life that island by plane and has not been heard of since. Thus ends the career of a very fine artist, whose last efforts were devoted to recording events connected with the war – records which will go down to posterity, and which will keep his memory green, especially in the art world which respected him for his achievements. He was a sane progressive, sound in judgement and method.
Eric Ravilious – Convoy From Merchant Ship At Anchor, 1943
After buying the etching below and looking up the artist and location, it struck me how the uncovering and preservation of British ancient monuments in the twentieth century, together with the age of motoring bought artists to translate these places into art.
John Grigsby – Cerne Giant
Cerne Abbas is a parish just about eight miles north from Dorchester, in Dorset, England, where, as in the etching above, a human figure has been cut into the chalk hillside. The figure, generally referred to as a giant, is the outline of an ithyphallic man carrying a club in his right hand. At about 55 metres high and 51 metres wide it dominates the valley below. Above the Giant is another landmark, the Iron Age earthwork known as the “Trendle” or “Frying Pan”. The carvings are formed by outlines cut into the turf about 2ft deep, and filled with crushed chalk. The construction of the Wilmington Giant is much the same.
Eric Ravilious – Wilmington Giant, 1939.
“The Long Man of Wilmington and the very phallic Cerne Abbas Giant are of unknown age and controversy still rages over the date of the latter in particular”. †
The Ravilious painting is a watercolour using white resist makes the Giant Glow out from the paper’s natural colour, as do his cross-hatched, almost engraver brush-strokes of differing tones of colour.
Gertrude Hermes – Stonehenge, 1959.
Henry Moore – Stonehenge, 1973
Above two sculptors draw and engrave their perception of Stonehenge. Archaeologists believe Stonehenge was constructed from 3000 BC to 2000 BC. The surrounding circular earth bank and ditch, which constitute the earliest phase of the monument, have been dated to about 3100 BC. Unlike the chalk men, there have been writings of Stonehenge from most of recorded time. The earliest record of the chalk giants is from the 17th century.
Moore on Stonehenge: I began the Stonehenge series with etching in mind, but as I looked at, and drew, and thought about Stonehenge, I found that what interested me most was not its history, nor its original purpose – whether chronological or religious – or even its architectural arrangement, but its present-day appearance. I was above all excited by the monumental power and stoniness of the massive man-worked blocks and by the effect of time on them. Some 4000 years of weathering has produced an extraordinary variety of interesting textures. ‡
John Piper – Avebury, 1944
Paul Nash – Landscape of the Megaliths, 1937
Above are both the avenue and the stone circle of Avebury painted in different styles by both Nash and Piper. John Piper’s image was for a book on Romantic British Poetry and he is making use of limited use of colours in the printing process of the book to make the dark-to-light drama washed with umbers. Nash’s lithograph is one of his less surreal of this working time period, unlike the image below where Nash project’s his own vision for modern monoliths. They maybe hay-bails or car grills but these are, to Nash, the monoliths of today.
Paul Nash – Equivalents for the Megaliths, 1935.
With Nash it’s best to use his own words about why he came to paint ‘Equivalents for the Megaliths’
These groups (at Avebury) are impressive as forms opposed to their
surroundings both by virtue of their actual composition of lines and masses and planes, directions and volumes; and in the irrational sense, their suggestion of a super-reality. They are dramatic also, however, as symbols of their antiquity, as hallowed remnants of an almost unknown civilisation.
In designing the picture, I wished to avoid the very powerful influence of the antiquarian suggestion, and to insist only upon the dramatic qualities of a composition of shapes equivalent to the prone or upright stones simply as upright or prone, or leaning masses, grouped together in a scene of open fields and hills. – Paul Nash – Letter to Lance Sieveking. May 1937.
† The Cambridge Illustrated History of Prehistoric Art. p116 9780521454735 Paul Nash Places. 9781853320460 ‡ Henry Moore. Writings and Conversations. p299 978-0520231610
The war had not only hit at Britain’s cities with bombs, but also at the people with rationing. Food and fabric, paper and paint, tea and sugar were all rationed.
It was in the war years that the Lyons teashops became shabby and as fashions started to change in the post war era they looked dated. Materials like wood and paint where mostly reserved and rationed for government use in the post war construction, so another idea had to be devised to make the Lyons tearooms look more respectable.
Lyons Teahouse. 1951 The 2nd series of lithographs on the walls.
The directors, Felix and Julian Salmon had the idea of refreshing the tearooms with lithographic pictures to make them more appealing. In 1947 they sort advice from Jack Beddington who was the Artistic Director of Shell-Mex.
Shell Advert by Tristram Hillier — White Cliffs of Dover
The advertising in the 1930’s for Shell-Mex featured British artists modern work with simple text. It had been a public success and an exhibition of the Shell-Mex lithographs in 1939 was well attended.
The art of advertising in London from the mid 1920’s onward had seen modern art projected onto the public with company’s like Shell-Mex & London Transport using artists like Paul Nash, Edward McKnight Kauffer, Horace Taylor and Graham Sutherland to illustrate bold and simple posters.
It was an age when galleries charged admission and in the war years galleries where disbanding and hiding their art collections safe from German bombing raids. This would mean that the colour advertising posters where some of the few artworks to be left open to the public in wartime and where displayed all over the country. It would be the first time the public would encounter these artists.
Shell Advert by Richard Guyatt — Ralph Allen’s Sham Caster nr Bath.
By appointing Beddinton they relied on his contacts with artists to product the lithographs. Samples and designs where commissioned and the first series of these sixteen prints featured Edward Ardizzone, Edward Bawden, Clifford & Rosemary Ellis, Barnett Freedman (who assisted with artistic advice on lithography) Duncan Grant, Edwin La Dell, John Nash to name half. Artists also claimed royalties on copies sold in the tearooms, an unusual practice in it’s day. One thousand five hundred prints where made of each poster in the first series.
Lyons Print: David Gentleman — Cornish Pilchard Boat
Some of the troubles in printing came from printing trade unions and of artists unfamiliar with the lithography process. Some of these posters had to be hand drawn onto the lithographic plate to be printed, pre-made works where translated from paintings by Chromoworks Ltd, London.
The artworks for Lyons had a press release in 1947 at the Trocadero Restaurant, London, where Lyons often had their board meetings.
A special preview was arranged for Queen Mary.
Many prints where glued to wood or mirrors for hanging in the tearooms, the public could then buy the posters un-mounted and unframed, it’s the prints unglued to canvas and board that are worth more money today.
Edward Bawden — The Dolls at Home.
Thirty of the Lyon’s Tea Rooms in London exhibited the prints at first. Due to the press and public interest the prints were soon found in all Lyons’ teashops. The success of the first series of prints meant that a second and third series of prints came in 1951 and 1955.
It is worth noting that companies like Guinness started to produce lithographic prints (The World Record Series) to brighten up their pubs soon after. So the series and it’s publicity had an ongoing effect.
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. ‡
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. †
During the Great depression in America artists were employed by the state to make works for the public. It was called the Federal Art Project and from 1935 the project was mostly famous for the murals in post offices, but it also covered sculpture and graphic design work. The project is said to have made 200,000 works from 1935 to 1943.
A charming picture of an Artist giving Art classes to Navy and Merchant Seamen at the Seamen’s Institute. 1935.
Vertis Hayes mural ‘Pursuit of Happiness’ painted in Harlem Hospital, NYC.
The director of the National Gallery, Sir Kenneth Clark was inspired by the Federal Art Project in the run-up to the Second World War years. In 1940 the Committee for the Employment of Artists in Wartime, part of the Ministry of Labour and National Service, launched a scheme to employ artists to record the home front in Britain, funded by a grant from the Pilgrim Trust. It ran until 1943 and some of the country’s finest watercolour painters, such as John Piper, Sir William Russell Flint, Rowland Hilder, and Barbara Jones were commissioned to make paintings and drawings of places which captured a sense of national identity.
Their subjects were typically English: market towns, villages, churches, country estates, rural landscapes; industries, rivers, monuments and ruins. Northern Ireland was not covered, only four Welsh counties were included and a separate scheme ran in Scotland.
Barbara Jones: The Euston Arch for The Recording Britain project, 1943. V&A.
The premonition that Britain would be changed by WWII wasn’t the only motivation for starting the project, the ever expanding suburbs and new roads would mean that Britain was changing into a new industrial age.
The idea of a ‘vanishing Brtiain’ was also not new; in 1877 the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) was chiefly set up by William Morris and Philip Webb to conserve buildings in Britain. After the huge loss of life in the First World War, along with death duties, many family mansions where auctioned off and destroyed. (A practice that sadly went on long after the second world war.)
Rowland Hilder – The Old Cottage, Pulborough. 1940. V&A.
Another motivation for Clark was to help British artists during wartime and keep traditional art mediums fashionable. Many of the works were either done in watercolour or gouache.
In total over 1500 works were produced and 97 artists participated. The works were displayed three times during the war in the now, mostly empty, National Gallery and toured across Britain as a national moral boosting piece of propaganda.
Kenneth Rowntree – Brent Hall from the South, Finchingfield. 1940. V&A.
The Pilgrim Trust donated the works to the Victoria and Albert museum, London in 1949. A four volume set of books was published and is now highly collectable. Two other books have been edited by Gill Saunders in 1990, 2011 and 2012.
Michael Rothenstein – Byland Abbey – 4 June 1940. V&A.
These last works to Nikolaus Pevsner:
My answer to that is the War Artists’ Committee which was appointed at the beginning of the war to select artists as records of all kinds of war events. It has chosen its artists judiciously and on the whole put them into the right positions. It suggested to them subjects which were up their street anyway, and it left them an amazing amount of freedom as to how they wished to work. The result has been very good indeed. Henry Moore in the tube shelters, John Piper and Graham Sutherland amongst the bombed buildings, Stanley Spencer in machine shops, Eric Ravilious with the Fleet Air Arm, Edward Bawden in Abyssinia and so on — a record of which any country may be proud.
[And one more case-] Another group of young artists got their chance also by means of such a committee: the Recording Britain scheme of the Pi;grim Trust. Again, they were intelligently chosen to do a job of work which they liked to do: this time, the recording of anything they cared for in any county of Britain — Medieval castles, railway junctions, cottages, Victorian pubs, work in the fields, a deserted mine and iron stove and commandment boards in a church — anything. It has actually brought a few artists right into the limelight who had not before had quite such an opportunity to show what they could do: Kenneth Rowntree, for instance, and Barbara Jones. †
John Piper – Entrance Screen, Tyringham, 1940.
† From a radio broadcast ‘Art and the state’ from the show Art for Everyone. BBC Overseas Services — The Complete Broadcast Talks: Architecture and Art on Radio and Television.
From Private View: The Journal from the Cambridge School of Art. Spring 1986.
Walter Hoyle – Dieppe Harbour, 1986
I thought this letter was so colourful and a rare insight into the world of Walter Hoyle. Sadly little is known online of Hoyle as books are yet to be penned. But this is a rather funny view on his last days at the Cambridge School of Art and Hoyle’s quest for a coast house.
First a brief biography of Walter Hoyle. Painter and printmaker, Hoyle was born in Lancashire. He studied at Beckenham School of Art from 1938 alongside Bernard Cheese, then moved on to the Royal College of Art in 1940. There he was mentored and educated under Edward Bawden, they became close friends and Hoyle later moved to Great Bardfield to live and work alongside Bawden. Hoyle wrote a book called ‘To Sicily with Edward Bawden’ with Olive Cook and also illustrated editions for the Folio Society. After moving to Bottisham, Cambridgeshire, he taught at the Cambridge School of Art, placing great emphasis on printmaking. Hoyle worked amassing the Collection of Original Works for Children in Cambridgeshire, an art project for City of Cambridge Committee for Education. Hoyle retired in 1985 to move to Hastings and Dieppe.
A personal note from Walter Hoyle. The new editor of ‘Private View’ (Warwick Hutton) has requested a personal note on my activities since relinquishing my commitment to the Cambridge School of Art (and ‘Private View’) in July, 1985.
I spend most of the summer with my family in Dieppe where we have a flat in the old part of town, near the harbour. As usual, I enjoyed Dieppe and spent my time drawing, painting and recovering from the cool flatness of Cambridge. However, I think that it will take more than one summer to regenerate the energy I spent and lost over the years at Cambridge School of Art. I do not regret the time spent with students — that was very worthwhile — but I do regret the time and energy waster on trying to justify art to the almost blind administration and national authorities, and as somebody said — in the land of the blind the one-eyed is King — or something like that.
At the end of the summer I returned to Cambridge, my faith strengthened by Dieppe and my romantic ideals partially restored. We had decided to sell our Cambridge (Bottisham) house and move to the south coast — it would be easier to commute to Dieppe.
So we cleaned up the house and put it on the market and to my surprise it sold quickly, within three or four days. The prospective buyers who vied the house were fascinated by my studio and etching press — I do not wear a beret or smock, nor do I sport a beard but I think they also found me a curiosity and to top it all, my wife is French and they loved her accent — obviously the right combination for selling property.
We had to dash off to the south coast to look for a house. We started at Brighton — too brash, polished and pretty, Newhaven — a depressingly ugly place, Eastbourne — alright for Aunty, and then Hastings — interesting, rather shabby, a town that has seen better days, very hilly, amazing architecture and many charming Victorian houses for sale. So Hastings it is, a Victorian house with marvellous views above the Old Town.
From the Hastings house I can look out of the window at the sea, this same sea that fills the harbour at Dieppe, and yet Hastings and Dieppe could not be more different, and this variance I find interesting and entertaining. Also, the sky here in Hastings often looks like a Turner or Constable, but viewed from Dieppe it reflects French painters — however, my aim is to work on my own observations and ideas and make both sides of the channel look Hoylish.
Walter Hoyle – St Catherine’s with Acanthus , 1966
This I found difficult to do in Cambridge, Its so complete and correct and no doubt the University and its architecture are partly to blame. There is a strong smell of education like sour wine and a lack of effervescence and creative activity, and a feeling prevails that education is the end product rather than the means.
I will now be crossing the channel frequently and I welcome the immediate stimulus of the two sides of La Manche.
To my bias opinion, Faber & Faber have always seamed a more artistic publisher based on the work in the 1930’s and 40’s. The typesetting of the poetry to the beautifully illustrated dust jackets always seam to be ahead of other publishers when it came to literature and how to employ artists.
The Ariel poems were a series of 38 pamphlets that contained illustrated poems published by Faber and Gwyer and later by Faber and Faber.
Faber and Faber began as a firm in 1929. However, its roots go back further — to The Scientific Press, owned by Sir Maurice and Lady Gwyer and derived much of its income from the weekly magazine the ‘Nursing Mirror’.
The Gwyers aimed for trade publishing and this led them to Geoffrey Faber. The partnership was then founded in 1925 and known as Faber and Gwyer. It was at this time In 1925 that T.S.Eliot left Lloyds bank to join the publishing firm Faber and Gwyer, as an editor.
The partnership of Gwyers and Faber didn’t last for long, four years later in 1929, the Nursing Mirror was sold and Geoffrey Faber and the Gwyers parted company. Searching for a name with a ring of respectability, Geoffrey hit on the name Faber and Faber, although there was only ever one Faber.
In 1927, Eliot was asked by Geoffrey Faber, to write one poem each year for a series of illustrated pamphlets with holiday themes to be sent to the firms clients and business acquaintances as Christmas greetings.
This series became the “Ariel Series” and would amass 38 pamphlets from a selection of English writers and poets from 1927 through 1931. It was a mark of considerable taste by Faber & Faber as they paired their authors with modern artists.
A detail of the wood engraving by Gertrude Hermes for Ariel Poem #23
The first editions of the Ariel Poems where released in numbers of 3000–5000 printings per copy. A set of limited editions where also issued in various printings of 250–500 copies each. These were signed and numbered by the authors and bound with thicker hand cut paper. Both versions of the editions had an illustration on the front cover, then a frontispiece by the illustrator that was sometimes coloured. Then the poems text. The pamphlets were bought back in 1954, when eight new publications were released in the New Series. These came with a colourful envelope from when they were posted.
The pamphlets, in order, are as follows:
Yuletide in a Younger World by Thomas Hardy, drawings by Albert Rutherston
The Linnet’s Nest by Henry Newbolt, drawings by Ralph Keene
The Wonder Night by Laurence Binyon, drawings by Barnett Freedman
Alone by Walter de la Mare, wood engravings by Blair Hughes-Stanton
Gloria in Profundis by G. K. Chesterton, wood engravings by Eric Gill
The Early Whistler by Wilfred Gibson, drawings by John Nash
Nativity by Siegfried Sassoon, designs by Paul Nash
Journey of the Magi by T. S. Eliot, drawings by E. McKnight Kauffer
The Chanty of the Nona, poem and drawings by Hilaire Belloc
Moss and Feather by W. H. Davies, illustrated by Sir William Nicholson
Self to Self by Walter de la Mare, wood engravings by Blaire Hughes-Stanton
Troy by Humbert Wolfe, drawings by Charles Ricketts
The Winter Solstice by Harold Monro, drawings by David Jones
To My Mother by Siegfried Sassoon, drawings by Stephen Tennant
Popular Song by Edith Sitwell, designs by Edward Bawden
A Song for Simeon by T. S. Eliot, drawings by E. McKnight Kauffer
Winter Nights, a reminiscence by Edmund Blunden, drawings by Albert Rutherston
Three Things by W. B. Yeats, drawings by Gilbert Spencer
Dark Weeping by “AE”, designs by Paul Nash
A Snowdrop by Walter de la Mare, drawings by Claudia Guercio
Ubi Ecclesia by G. K. Chesterton, drawings by Diana Murphy
The Outcast by James Stephens, drawings by Althea Willoughby
Animula by T. S. Eliot, wood engravings by Gertrude Hermes
Inscription on a Fountain-Head by Peter Quennell, drawings by Albert Rutherston
The Grave of Arthur by G. K. Chesterton, drawings by Celia Fiennes
Elm Angel by Harold Monro, wood engravings by Eric Ravilious
In Sicily by Siegfried Sassoon, drawings by Stephen Tennant
The Triumph of the Machine by D. H. Lawrence, drawings by Althea Willoughby
Marina by T. S. Eliot, drawings by E. McKnight Kauffer
The Gum Trees by Roy Campbell, drawings by David Jones
News by Walter de la Mare, drawings by Barnett Freedman
A Child is Born by Henry Newbolt, drawings by Althea Willoughby
To Lucy by Walter de la Mare, drawings by Albert Rutherston
To the Red Rose by Siegfried Sassoon, drawings by Stephen Tennant
Triumphal March by T. S. Eliot, drawings by E. McKnight Kauffer
Jane Barston 1719–1746 by Edith Sitwell, drawings by R. A. Davies
Invitation To Cast Out Care by Vita Sackville-West, drawings by Graham Sutherland
Choosing A Mast by Roy Campbell, drawings by Barnett Freedman
The 1954 series was as follows:
Sirmione Peninsula by Stephen Spender, drawings by Lynton Lamb
The Winnowing Dream by Walter de la Mare, drawings by Robin Jacques.
The Other Wing by Louis Macneice, drawings by Michael Ayrton.
Mountains by W. H. Auden, drawings by Edward Bawden.
Nativity by Roy Campbell, drawings by James Sellars.
Christmas Eve by C Day Lewis, drawings by Edward Ardizzone
The Cultivation of Christmas Trees by T. S. Eliot, drawings by David Jones.
In 1938 typographer and spy, Robert Harling commissioned Eric Ravilious to produce an engraving for the Wisden Cricket Almanac. Harling knew Ravilious had a “special enthusiasm for the game” and wrote: “His engraving of mid-19th century batsman and wicket-keeper remains an ideal graphic introduction to one of England’s most durable publications.”
Over 75 covers have been published since 1938 with the Ravilious batsmen on the cover. The engraving briefly lost its cover-star status in 2003, when a photograph of Michael Vaughan relegated it to the spine of the book’s jacket, incurring the displeasure of traditionalists.
It was immediately restored to the cover in 2004, while staying on the spine as well. And so, for ten editions now, including this one, Ravilious’s creation has been more visible than ever.
Whatever the origin, we do know for certain that Ravilious played cricket, if at a lowly level. In 1935, he wrote of turning out for the Double Crown Club, a dining club for printers and book designers, against the village team at Castle Hedingham in Essex, where he lived for a while. He said the game went on “a bit too long for my liking and I began to get a little absent-minded in the deep field after tea”. He made one not out in defeat, and bowled a few overs. “It all felt like being back at school, especially the trestle tea with slabs of bread and butter, and that wicked-looking cheap cake.” He went on to record the comment of the Double Crown captain Francis Meynell that his bowling was “of erratic length, but promising, and that I should have been put on before. Think of the honour and glory there.”
Sketch design by Ravilious for Wisden.
In another game at Castle Hedingham, with his wife Tirzah (a talented artist herself) “in charge of the strawberries and cream”, Ravilious talked of hitting three sixes. “It is, you might say, one of the pleasures of life, hitting a six.”
Ravilious saw only five of the Almanacks to carry his engraving. Yet his work — in many ways a distillation of Englishness — lives on.
John Wisden’s 187th birthday by Google doodle – 5th September 2013.
PS: Before the second world war, Robert Harling taught at the Reimann School of Design in London, where one of his pupils was the young émigré Alex Kroll, later to join him as art director on House & Garden. A keen weekend sailor, Robert took part in the wartime evacuation of British forces at Dunkirk in May 1940, which he described in his book Amateur Sailor, published in 1944 under the pen name Nicholas Drew. The poet John Masefield praised the book as the best eyewitness account of Dunkirk ever written. Robert then joined the Royal Navy, first serving on mid-Atlantic convoy duty. Again, he gave a marvellous account of this experience in his atmospheric memoir The Steep Atlantick Stream (1946).
His friend Ian Fleming was responsible for Robert’s sudden transfer from anti-submarine warfare to the newly constituted Unit 17Z, given its name by Fleming himself and headed by Donald McLachlan. This small and, to Robert, highly congenial outfit, soon to be known as Fleming’s Secret Navy, was responsible for day-to-day liaison between the naval intelligence division and the British war propaganda teams.
Secret navy assignations, involving solitary missions to the US and the far and Middle East, appealed to the cloak-and-dagger instinct in Robert. The fastidious James Lees-Milne described him as “a rough diamond”. So, to some extent, he was. Wartime experiences cemented Robert and Fleming’s mutual admiration. Robert is depicted fondly in The Spy Who Loved Me as the make-up man on the Chelsea Clarion — “a man called Harling was quite a dab hand at getting the most out of the old-fashioned type faces that were all our steam-age jobbing printers in Pimlico had in stock.”
“It is by his coloured lithographs that Bernard Cheese is best known to connoisseurs”
Picnic on the Beach – Bernard Cheese
Bernard Cheese was born in Sydenham, south-east London. His father Gordon William Cheese was a cab driver. He trained at Beckenham School of Art with Walter Hoyle, both studying Graphic Art until they were called up for military service during the Second World War. Joining the Arillery, Cheese served four years in the army until the War ended.
Having being demobbed, in 1947 Cheese resumed his studies and enrolled at the Royal College of Art. Studying under Edward Bawden and Edwin La Dell. It was La Dell who inspired him with printmaking and lithography and encouraged Cheese to improve his draughtsman skills, sending him out with sketchbooks to markets, pubs, parks to record the social life of people around him. Together with artist-printer George Devenish, La Dell and Cheese worked at perfecting traditional lithographic techniques.
While at the Royal College of Art, Bernard met what was to become his first wife, Sheila Robinson. They were married in 1951 and lived together in Beaufort Street, Chelsea. Husband and wife both worked independently on ‘Festival of Britain’ murals, along with other artists like Barbara Jones, John Piper, John Hutton and Edward Bawden.
Bernard’s mural was in the Shot Tower (demolished to make way for the Queen Elizabeth Hall), it was called Kaleidoscope and circled the tower. The boards they were painted on have been lost and are presummed to be destoryed. It was at this time Cheese was getting work as a commersial artist with a set of posters and decorations for London Transport and printed by the Baynard Press.
Section #5 of Kaleidoscope by Bernard Cheese, Festival of Britain. 1951. Fry Gallery.
The marriage was blessed with a child, Chloe Cheese in 1952. Both Bernard and Sheila were weary of London accommodation and with a child they looked at moving out the city. It was under Edward Bawden’s suggestion that they resettled in the artist community of Great Bardfield, Essex, where Bawden also resided. In 1953 they moved to Bardfield End Green, neighbouring Great Bardfield but closer to Thaxted. Bernard set up a studio in an old chip shop in Great Bardfield.
Life in Great Bardfield:
Being in Great Bardfield in the 1950’s forged a legagacy of ‘artists’ that focused the attention on to each other by their location, much like the artists in St Ives in the 1920’s. The artists that lived there were able to share exhibitions that might have been too expensive for solo shows. The set was made up of Edward Bawden (who had Eric Ravilious lodging with him at one point in Brick House), John Aldridge, George Chapman, Stanley Clifford-Smith, Audrey Cruddas, Walter Hoyle, Michael Rothenstein, Marianne Straub and Sheila Robinson with Bernard Cheese. Most of whom are now eulogised by the Fry Gallery, Saffron Walden.
Drum Major — Bernard Cheese
In 1953 Edwin La Dell asked Cheese to contribute to the Coronation Lithograph series: a portfolio of 40 prints by staff and former students of the Royal College of Art, (most notiably featuring Kenneth Rowntree’s ER decorations print) for a celebratory exhibition at the Redfern Gallery in 1953. Bernard’s submission was ‘Drum Major’. In 1954 Cheese and Robinson’s second child Benjamin was born.
A Fisherman’s Story — Bernard Cheese. Tate
Maybe the most famous image of all for Bernard Cheese was for the Guinness lithograph series. Intended to be hung on the walls of the pubs to brighten them up, the artworks where inspired by the Guinness book of world Records. Cheese’s response to this project was ‘A Fisherman’s Story’, an image of an old man in a pub telling of the largest fish… Other works in the series were Edward Ardizzone’s ‘The Fattest Woman in the World’ and Barnett Freedman’s ‘The Darts Champion’.
Life after Great Bardfield. Sheila Robinson and Cheese separated in 1957 and followed in divorced in 1958. Cheese married his former student Brenda Latham Brown. They moved to Stisted, Essex (closer to Braintree) where their daughters, Joanna and Sarah, were born. For a studio, Bernard rented a Sunday school room.
Bernard Cheese – London Transport Museum Poster
Now working as a teacher and with a good income, Bernard was able to print off lithographs with more ease. Since the rise of the Lyons, Guinness and School Print lithographs… this generation of artists where seeing signed lithographs as a viable commercial option. With people like La Dell and Freedman leading the way in modern lithography for artists, not publishers. With more works came more exhibitions and Cheese’s work would be shown all over the world, both in solo shows and contemporary printmaking exhibitions. Other commercial work would be for the BBC and A&C Black to P&O Cruises.
In the 70’s Cheese taught at Goldsmiths College (70–78) and part time in the 80’s at the Central School of Art and Design, London. He and Brenda (nee Latham Brown) separated in 1988 and divorced in 1992. In the 90’s Cheese moved to Nayland, north of Colchester. While he continued to travel in search of new subjects for watercolours that he subsequently reworked as lithographs, he turned increasingly to delightfully idiosyncratic still-life arrangements such as ‘Trout on a Plate’ and ‘On the Rocks’ and ‘Green Apples’many printed by the Curwen Press.
Cheese seams to have picked up Edward Bawden’s sense of humour for his later lithographs, partially Bawden’s talent for comic sketch-work. Many of the later prints contain a humorous twist.
On The Rocks – Bernard Cheese.
Chesse’s works reside in the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Royal Collection to the Museum of Modern Art in New York and New York Public Library. The Tate London and the Fry Gallery in Saffron Walden.With more than 100 lithographs and watercolours, Aberystwyth University holds the largest public collection of his works. In 1988 Cheese was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers.
Cheese was predeceased by Ben. He is survived by Chloe, Joanna and Sarah.
Bernard Cheese, painter and printmaker, born 20 January 1925; died 15 March 2013.