Dunkirk in Art

In this post I look at the artworks of events at Dunkirk in 1940. Some would have been sketched or observed on the day, others were painted with eye-witness reports and photographs. Many were finished in a studio in the weeks and months after.

On 10 May 1940, Germany invaded France and the Low Countries, pushing the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), along with French and Belgian troops, back to the French port of Dunkirk. A huge rescue, Operation ‘Dynamo’, was organised by the Royal Navy to get the troops off the beaches and back to Britain. 

‘Dynamo’ began on 26 May. Strong defences were established around Dunkirk, and the Royal Air Force sent all available aircraft to protect the evacuation. Over 800 naval vessels of all shapes and sizes helped to transport troops across the English Channel. The last British troops were evacuated on 3 June, with French forces covering their escape. Churchill and his advisers had expected that it would be possible to rescue only 20,000 to 30,000 men, but in all 338,000 troops, a third of them French, were rescued. Ninety thousand remained to be taken prisoner and the BEF left behind the bulk of its tanks and heavy guns. All resistance in Dunkirk ended at 9.30am on 4 June.

When I saw the Richard Eurich picture below, the sea was so well painted it looked like glass. It was at an exhibition in the Queens House, Greenwich. It is a fantastic picture that viewed in a book or on the internet doesn’t comprehend. It was also used by the Navy as its Christmas card for 1940.

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 Richard Eurich – Withdrawal from Dunkirk, 1940

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 Charles Cundall – The Withdrawal from Dunkirk, 1940

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 John Spencer-Churchill – Dunkirk from the Bray Dunes, 1940

Below is a painting by Wilkinson who to my eye is the master of painting seascapes. He has a wonderful repertoire of boats and the lighting in this painting is a marvel. Though beautiful, it also shows the hellish chaos of the day.

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 Norman Wilkinson – The Little Ships at Dunkirk, 1940

The Little Ships at Dunkirk: June 1940, by Norman Wilkinson. The gently shelving beaches meant that large warships could only pick up soldiers from the town’s East Mole, a sea wall which extended into deep water, or send their boats on the beaches to collect them. To speed up the process, the British Admiralty appealed to the owners of small boats for help. These became known as the ‘little ships’.

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 Newspaper with the small announcement under ‘War Artists’.

On Thursday, 7th March, 1940, three days before his 37th birthday, it was announced in the British papers that Edward Bawden and Barnett Freeman were to become Official War Artists on behalf of the British War Office.

In the first days of April, Ardizzone (Edward) and Bawden took rooms for a while in the hotel Commerce in Arras, fussed over by a shared batman. They enjoyed the local wine and hospitality, before being billeted separately. Arras was dour, small and grey, It was also the GHQ for the British Army in France.

Arras in France is just over fifty miles away on a map, from April to May the retreat to Dunkirk was rapid and not an inspiring start for a war artist. In this short time Bawden said he was passed from regiments and groups rapidly as none of them wanted the alien burden of an artist to deal with, but being on the move a lot may have prepared his sketching style ready for Dunkirk where rapid copy was needed.

On his way to Dunkirk, Bawden has rolled up his paintings in a cylindrical tin which he clutched under his arm.

Approaching the port, he ditched all his equipment except his art materials (what would the Germans have done with them?) Marching into the town, they ran the gauntlet of ragged French soldiers jeering them. It discomforted him, as did the looters sweeping like locusts through abandoned houses.

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 Edward Bawden – Dunkirk: Embarkation of Wounded, May 1940

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 Edward Bawden – Dunkirk – The New World, 1940

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 Edward Bawden – Boys Serving Coffee, Dunkirk, 1940.

He reached the quayside in the company of a Canadian major, and they watched with dismay the frantic self-preservation of a group of British generals on the Dunkirk quayside, the swagger sticks pointing at likely boats bound for England. He turned to the major, with a wry smile. ‘Rats always go first’ he said.

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 Edward Bawden – Dunkirk – Embarkation of Wounded, 1940

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 Edward Bawden – The Quay at Dunkirk, 1940.

In the watercolour above, notice the fires along the jetty. The men in the foreground descending into a air-raid shelter and the bomb craters on the ground. The air raid shelter is likely to be the same one below, but in the chaos who could tell.

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 Edward Bawden – The Entrance to an Air Raid Shelter, Dunkirk, 1940

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 Edward Bawden – In an Air Raid Shelter, Dunkirk: Bombs are dropping, 1940

The Sketchbook War by Richard Knott, 2013 978-0752489230
Imperial War Museum – Dunkirk

A New Booklet – Ravilious

In the books section there is the new free PDF booklet Writings on Ravilious. You can also download the Bawden booklet “Life in An English Village”.

The de Lank Quarry Cornwall

One of the nicer parts of my researches into the histories of Edward Bawden and John Nash is looking at the works they created on holiday together. As artists visiting a place together it seems they would look at a subject (the bridge at Ironbridge) and wonder around to get a perspective that pleased them both. Here with the Quarry I would imagine they had less opportunity to wander about, as it was then and is still now, a working Quarry. This has given a forced subject and view. I find it interesting how they both have translated it into a painting.

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On five occasions we shared a painting expedition in Wales, on the Gower Peninsula & again near Haverfordwest at Littlehaven; in Cornwall during a cold wet spell of misery in the De Lank Quarry at Blisland; at Dunwich in Suffolk & in Shropshire at Ironbridge. †

Located near Blisland, not far from Bodmin, the De Lank Granite Quarry was a particularly engaging subject for Bawden as, ‘unlike many granite quarries on or near the moors it is still being actively worked, & for that reason retains an interest that others have lost

The forced perspective of where it was safe to paint gives an interesting view to how both Nash and Bawden worked. I like mostly the blash pressure and fuel tank behind the workers hut on the crane.

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 Edward Bawden – The De Lank quarry no.2 , 1960

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 John Nash – The De Lank Quarry, Cornwall, 1960

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 John Nash – The De Lank Quarry at Blisland, Cornwall , 1960

The paintings below likely were made on the same trip, Sharp Tor was exhibited at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition 1960 and The De Lank River, De Lank Quarry No 2 and The Engine House all exhibited in the 1961 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. The last two – likely worked upon in Bawden’s studio – are sad gloomy images.

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 Edward Bawden – Sharp Tor, Cornwall, 1960

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 Edward Bawden – The De Lank River, Cornwall, 1960

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 Edward Bawden – The Engine House, Cornwall, 1960

Edward Bawden to John Rothenstein, 24th April, 1979.
Letter from Edward Bawden, 12 July 1961

You are the Quarry

The painting series by Bawden named as ‘Pengwern’ is really in ‘Dyserth’ in Wales. The limestone quarry is in the hills above Dyserth in Denbighshire and it was closed in the 1980s.

Bawden’s paintings capture a curious geometry in the landscape with the sides of the quarry looking like large pieces of flint. Paintings two and three are the same view so are interesting to compare. At this time Bawden would start the paintings off with a drawing and then finish them in the hotel or at his Saffron Walden studio.

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Edward Bawden – Quarry at Pengwern I, Llanrwst, 1977

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Edward Bawden – Quarry at Pengwern II, Llanrwst, 1977

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Edward Bawden – Quarry at Pengwern III, Llanrwst, 1977

Life in an English Village: Discovered (A PDF Download)

Here is something I have been promising for some time, it is a booklet looking at the King Penguin book illustrated by Edward Bawden ‘Life in an English Village’.

Due to the volume of information and the way it needed to be referenced I have made it into a booklet for tablets and computers rather than one of my normal blog posts.

You can view and download it free as a PDF by following the this link. 

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Move to the country

I thought this was an interesting bit of Great Bardfield history, of what could have been. Below is a letter from Edward Bawden to the typographer and book designer John Lewis and what’s interesting is Bawden is suggesting a house for him to live in. 

There are two options, one is for them to have a long term rental of Town House in Great Bardfield (around four houses from Brick House) and then a beautiful house called Arundels in Bardfield Saling.

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 Arundels, Bardfield Saling.

What is rather lovely is Bawden has drawn out a map in the letter and is honest about how much work it will need to repair it. 

The curious thing about his letter is that it comes at a time when Edward was encouraging people like Walter Hoyle and other Royal College of Art staff to move to Great Bardfield. It is letters like this that show how Bawden was trying to cement an artistic community in Essex. In the end Lewis moved to Meadow Cottage, Great Bealings, Woodbridge, Suffolk, England, to be near W S Cowell Ltd, Ipswich, where he was a printer.

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 Edward Bawden – Letter to John Lewis, c1947.

Gt Bardfield Now & Then

The print and the studies used in this post are by John Aldridge for the Festival of Britain, 1951 lithographs distributed by the Artists’ International Association and Lyons Tea-houses. The series featured prints from Edwin La Dell, Keith Vaughan and Shelia Robinson. The artists all chose different views and ideas but Aldridge used views of Great Bardfield.

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 John Aldridge – Studies for the Great Bardfield Print, 1950

The process of the print is rather interesting, I like the study doodles for the print made out by Aldridge using different colourways and grids. Below is the final gouache he would have sent off to the prints to transcribe into a lithograph (note it is backwards). It looks like he was using a bit of the wax resist effect that Bawden was so keen on.

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 John Aldridge – Study for the Great Bardfield Print, 1950

The final print I think is a bit of a disappointment, the texture to the edges of the print have been lost and it’s a very scrappy looking thing with cut and pencil makings that have made it into the lithography. The yellow slashed edging would have been black ink that has been made into a negative with the photo-lithographic technique, it only works for the text areas. The painting above has more vigour – the lack of colour used means the absence of red, the buildings look faded and without blue the sky is apocalyptic like a John Martin painting.

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 John Aldridge – Great Bardfield, 1951

Using the painting as a guide I am showing how the village looks now compared to John Aldridge’s paintings in 1950 using Google street view.

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 John Aldridge – Pant Place, 1950

Named after the river Pant in Bardfield, the house today has had its door moved and replaced with a rosebush. The railings have also been lost as has the stylised garden for something simpler to deal with. There is a driveway now as the motorcar rules the roads today.

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 Pant Plant, Great Bardfield today.

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 John Aldridge – Crown Street, 1950

Crown Street has only changed with the prevalence of the dreadful curse of the UK, the UPVC Window. The shop has gone and now is a house front.

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 Crown Street today.

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 John Aldridge – Brook Street, 1950

Brook Street today too is so similar it might not look to have changed to a time traveller. The railings around the island in the centre of the village and War memorial have gone, maybe they should come back.

The house to the left of the picture is Buck House, home to Stanley Clifford-Smith, one of the most unusual Great Bardfield artists. Thanks to a Fry Art Gallery booklet by Olive Cook he was written out of Great Bardfield history and was considered less important than he was. It was a myth started in 1988 and perpetuated until quite recently with the writing of Under Moon Light by his son Silas Clifford Smith highlighting his role in the Great Bardfield exhibitions in Bardfield’s 1950s.

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 Brook Street today.

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 John Aldridge – Northampton House, 1950

The Gardens of Northampton House have been sold off to make an estate called ‘Northampton Meadow’ though it looked to be a rather lovely garden it makes me wonder – in an age without the television and with less transport were gardens the main entertainment and way to show off to your neighbours?

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 Northampton Meadow today, a 1990s estate.

In Ironbridge

Edward Bawden went on a working holiday to Iron Bridge with the War Artists John Aldridge and Carel Weight. John Nash went with them, but I couldn’t find any records until the artist Celia Hart found some for me! Here I have collected some of the pictures all of them made from that trip and likely finished off in their studios at home. Although the John Nash works don’t have dates I am confident they are from the same trip.

I was at Ironbridge for about six weeks in September and October 1956 and was joined by John Aldridge, John Nash and Carel Weight. Each of us in turn painted the famous bridge’. ‘Houses at Ironbridge was almost the last painting I was able to do during my stay’.

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John Nash – Ironbridge through the Bridge, Gridded study.

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John Nash – Ironbridge, (Exhibited in 1960)

The Iron Bridge is very handsome but a teaser to draw with three upright supports and five curved spans to every three so that a sideways view is very complicated…. We dodge between the showers and somehow I’ve done three drawings and a bit – but Carel has done an oil painting every day it seems while Edward keeps his work secretly in his rooms and does not divulge progress. Carel and I play bar billards every night, but Bawden will not join these simple diversions. 

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John Nash – Ironbridge, Shropshire.

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 Edward Bawden – Ironbridge Church, 1956

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 Edward Bawden – The House at Ironbridge, 1956

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 Edward Bawden – Iron Bridge, 1956

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 Edward Bawden. Houses at Ironbridge, 1956

The Bawden paintings above all share the same palette leading me to think he painted them on location and touched them up later. The wall of Houses at Ironbridge is a layering of paint and grease to make a watercolour batik over the drawing of the wall.

The paintings of John Aldridge show a quickly sketched oil painting that I would say was done on location and then an Italian looking Ironbridge in a brighter series of colours and much more control that I suspect would have been finished off in Great Bardfield.

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 John Aldridge – Ironbridge, 1956

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 John Aldridge – Ironbridge III, 1956

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 John Aldridge – Garden in Ironbridge, 1956

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 Carel Weight – Ironbridge, 1957

Tate – T00206
Letter from John Nash to John Lewis

Edward Bawden – Aesop’s Fables

Aesop’s Fables has been a favourite with British illustrators ever since the mass publication of the edition in 1818 with woodcuts by Thomas Bewick. Bewick had first published a Selection of Fables in Three Parts in 1784. But these tales of ancient Greece have such humour and moral tales that they where a kind alternative to the bible for children.

Edward Bawden was a great reader and had an impressive library that he partly sold in grief in 1970 following the double whammy of the death of his wife and down-sizing home from Brick House in Great Bardfield to 2 Park Lane, Saffron Walden. He spent the next 10 years trying to acquire his favourite books back.

Bawden is called a celebrator of English humour and having grown up reading Edward Lear it might be why he thought the fables were a good subject matter, it is hard to say. He made one lino-print for the 1956 book ‘A handbook of type and design’ by John Lewis and maybe it had more mileage.

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 Edward Bawden – An Old Crab and a Young Crab, 1956

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 Edward Bawden – Hare and Tortoise, 1970

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 Edward Bawden – A Frog and an Ox, 1970

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 Edward Bawden – Daw in Borrowed Feathers, 1970

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 Edward Bawden – Peacock and Magpie, 1970

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 Edward Bawden – Frog, Mouse and Kite,  1970

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 Edward Bawden – Hares, Foxes and Eagles, 1970

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 Edward Bawden – Ant and Grasshopper, 1970

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 Edward Bawden – The Gnat and the Lion, 1970  

Eric Ravilious for The Cornhill

The Cornhill Magazine was founded by George Murray Smith in 1859, the first issue in January 1860. It continued until 1975. It was a literary journal with a selection of articles on diverse subjects and serialisations of new novels. From the days when news was slower to make the press and a book was a luxury commodity, these magazines were more of a social service than a magazine is today. Smith hoped to gain some of the same readership enjoyed by All the Year Round, a similar magazine owned by Charles Dickens, and he employed as editor William Thackeray, Dickens’ great literary rival at the time.

The stories were often illustrated and it contained works from some of the foremost artists of the time including: George du Maurier, Edwin Landseer, Frederic Leighton, and John Everett Millais. Some of its subsequent editors included G. H. Lewes, Leslie Stephen, Ronald Gorell Barnes, James Payn, Peter Quennell and Leonard Huxley.

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 Eric Ravilious – Cornhill Title Block, 1932

When Ravilious first worked for the Cornhill Magazine it was 1932 with the wood engraving above, but in fact the first appearance of the block was in 1954 for the 1,000th issue of the magazine. Why it was not used isn’t clear but the magazine have used it a few times since for anniversaries and sometimes on the title pages.

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 Centenary Edition of the Cornhill magazine, 1954

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 Eric Ravilious – Wheatsheaf for The Cornhill, 1936

The wheat sheaf design was commissioned by a young publisher called John Arnaud Robin Grey (‘Jock’) Murray who was on the staff of the Cornhill Magazine at the time, before going on to publish the likes of John Betjeman, Dervla Murphy and Patrick Leigh Fermor.

The design was to be used as a New Year’s Card, likely for the staff. Details from a letter from Eric to Jock:

I am sending you a print and the block of your wheatsheaf. It is rather more like an Autumn List than a New Year’s card – but perhaps you won’t mind that, and anyway I enjoyed doing the job. I’ll see you tomorrow at the party. †

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 Eric Ravilious – An Athlete, 1933

The moon and sun design features in this work from 1933 for Fifty-Four Conceits a book by Martin Armstrong.

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 Eric Ravilious – Wheatsheaf for The Cornhill, 1936

In 1936 the block appears again but with the background washed out. Ravilious had painted printers white (for correcting errors in artworks) to edit out the background of the block. The printers then made the block into an electrotype metal block to print with for mass production with those areas cut out of the metal.

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 Eric Ravilious – Wheatsheaf that he sent to Jock Murray, painted out, 1936 

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 Eric Ravilious – Title-page (Harvest Festival), Wood-engraving for the Cornhill Magazine, 1936

Ravilious was working on the Country Life Cookery Book at the same time as this commission for The Cornhill Magazine in the later part of 1936 and the project overlapped. So when one of the wood engravings was rejected by Jock Murray he used it on the cookery book. I thought this engraving was a bit surreal and over the top until I discovered a drawing of it below.

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 Eric Ravilious – Harvest Festival and Loaves, 1936

I’ve been drawing the bread table in the church – dead and fancy loaves, barley and corn, apples and eggs – and I  thought it too beautiful not to place on record.

Having been rejected for one job Ravilious cut away the framed backdrop of the table and submitted the wood-engraving below for the Cookery Book project instead.

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 Eric Ravilious – Title-page (Harvest Festival), Wood-engraving for the Country Life Cookery Book, 1937

Below is another woodblock based on the same image made for The Writings of Gilbert White of Selborne in 1938. It’s a new version and not an edited restrike. Likely cut in 1937 as the job was commissioned in May of that year and the book published in 1938.

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 Eric Ravilious – (Harvest Festival), Wood-engraving for The Writings of Gilbert White of Selborne in 1938

One of the commissions for The Cornhill Ravilious got was a Spring and Autumn woodblocks. Below is the Spring wood-engraving looking like an explosion of nature with a Cuckoo in the centre. It was used on compliment slips.

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 Eric Ravilious – Cuckoo

The same Cuckoo can be seen in the Gilbert White book again on the woodcut in Volume II on p243. To the bottom left corner.

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 Eric Ravilious – Requirements of an Ornithologist, 1938

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 Eric Ravilious – Requirements of an Ornithologist, 1938 (detail)

Below is a woodcut for the four seasons. Holly for winter, bulb-flowers for spring, under a rose for summer and a selection of leaves for autumn.

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 Eric Ravilious – Four Seasons, 1932

In a letter from Ravilious to Jock Murray, 7 January 1932:

I am so glad you like the design for your Quarterly List here is the block with a few amendments. I have made the border lighter as you suggested, and I think that was a good idea. 

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The wood engravings were used in black for subscription notices inside the magazine and in colour in Greetings Cards when one subscribed to the magazine as noted in the advert above and pictured below. The rose was presumably uppermost in the summer with warm red and the holly in the winter in a cool blue.

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 Cornhill Magazine Greetings Cards

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 Eric Ravilious – Compliment Slip for the Cornhill Magazine using ‘Autumn Fruits’, 1936

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 Eric Ravilious – Autumn Fruits, 1936

The wood-engraving above, Autumn Fruits, would have been copied from the painting below, and in the printing process it appears reversed. Ravilious as we know was a great recycler of his work.

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 Eric Ravilious – Trugs with Fruit, 1936

The same trug appears in the wood engraving for the Country Life Cookery Books vignette ‘April’. The job came at the same time as the Cornhill Magazine commission. The watercolour of Trugs of Fruit above has the same trug in the ‘April’ wood engraving. The fruit is presumed to be full of redcurrants as it is also next to mint and a lamb.

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 Eric Ravilious – April, Wood-engraving for the Country Life Cookery Book, 1937

The cornucopia was also a popular device used by Ravilious and appears in the ‘Autumn Fruits’ wood-engraving / compliment slip for Murray. It too was recycled into a wood engraving for the Country Life Cookery Book for ‘July’.

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 Eric Ravilious – July, Wood-engraving for the Country Life Cookery Book, 1937

♠ Eric Ravilious to Helen Binton – 6th October, 1936
Jeremy Greenwood – Eric Ravilious Wood Engravings, 2008