Press Announcement - Edward Bawden

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Monday 25 September 2017

Dulwich Picture Gallery has today announced details of its spring 2018 exhibition: a major retrospective of work by the celebrated British artist and designer, Edward Bawden RA CBE (1903-89). It will be the most wide-ranging exhibition to date, including a number of previously unseen works from the Bawden family’s private collection.

Widely respected as an innovative graphic designer, book illustrator and printmaker, Edward Bawden is best known today for his monumental linocuts and for the witty designs he made for companies like Shell and Fortnum & Mason. Meanwhile his achievements as a fine artist have been largely forgotten. Along with Paul Nash and Eric Ravilious, Bawden reinvented watercolour for the 20th century, and a central aim of this exhibition is to bring this work back into public view.

Featuring 170 works, half of them from private collections, this exhibition will explore every aspect of Bawden’s 60-year career, revealing his humour, skill and versatility. He refused to see a distinction between fine art and commercial design, and in this spirit the works will be arranged thematically to follow the evolution in his style and the constant creative dialogue between media and disciplines. Highlights include a display of Bawden’s rarely-seen war portraits, as well as archive material such as his personal blotter, on loan for the first time.

Bawden took a tremendous delight in observing the world ‘off duty’, and the exhibition will open with a wide-ranging display of works devoted to leisure and pleasure. These include a large map of Scarborough decorated with holidaymakers and mermaids, watercolours of Newhaven and Baghdad, and posters advertising films and London sights. 

The exhibition will go on to showcase watercolours, engraving and linocuts on the theme of plants and gardens, including an unfinished textile design, on display for the first time. Throughout the exhibition, preparatory studies, drawings and illustrated letters will be displayed - rarely exhibited, these will add a colourful personal dimension to the show whilst offering insights into Bawden’s creative mind.

Other rooms will reflect Bawden’s fascination with places and architecture, with watercolours and linocuts depicting Essex churches and Ethiopian palaces. As an official war artist Bawden spent the years 1940-45 travelling around North Africa, the Middle East and Europe, and alongside paintings of the places he visited he created a remarkable series of portraits, around twenty of which will be exhibited in the show. Up to this point Bawden’s depictions of the human figure were rarely bigger than a matchbox, but now he successfully battled his own feelings of inadequacy as an artist to produce some of the most compelling artworks of the conflict. Iraqi Jews, Kurds and Marsh Arabs will take their place, alongside servicemen of different African nations, revealing the range of people Bawden encountered and his warm treatment of all. 

The exhibition will culminate with an exploration of Bawden’s lifelong love of storytelling. One wall will be covered in original drawings, almost all from private collections, that span every decade from the 1920s to the 1980s. Another will feature studies for some of Bawden’s best-loved murals, while the last works are among his most colourful and inventive, including several linocuts from his much-loved series, Aesop’s Fables. Highlights include designs for Fortnum & Mason and Twinings, alongside fanciful illustrated books created by Bawden for his children.

Edward Bawden will be curated by James Russell, who curated Eric Ravilious at Dulwich Picture Gallery in 2015. He is the author of The Lost Watercolours of Edward Bawden(Mainstone Press), a study of Bawden’s 1930s paintings, as well as titles devoted to Eric Ravilious and other artists of the period.

Speaking of the show, James Russell said:

“This exhibition celebrates Bawden’s many achievements across all the disciplines he mastered, while also offering visitors an intimate portrait of the artist through studies, drawings and illustrated letters. Bawden’s unrivalled skill as a designer, irrepressible sense of humour and profound feeling for place will flow through the exhibition, offering visitors a varied, entertaining and sometimes moving experience.”

Jennifer Scott, Sackler Director of Dulwich Picture Gallery commented: 

“This will be an ideal summer show here in the idyllic setting of Dulwich Picture Gallery. Following in the footsteps of our spectacular Eric Ravilious exhibition in 2015, visitors can expect to be transported through Bawden’s extraordinary works to a characterful world full of humour and innovation”.

Loans have been secured from a number of private collections, as well as a wide range of institutions including the Imperial War Museum, the Fry Art Gallery and a major body of work from the Cecil Higgins Collection, Bedford, home of the Edward Bawden archive. An extensive full colour catalogue will accompany the exhibition.


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Listings Info: Edward Bawden 23 May - 9 September 2018

Official Paint Partner: Mylands

Edward Bawden: Biography

Edward Bawden was born in England on 10 March 1903, at Braintree Essex, the only child of Edward and Eleanor Bawden. His parents were Methodist Christians and his father an ironmonger. He was a solitary child and spent much of his time drawing. Whilst at school he began copying drawings of cats by Louis Wain, illustrations in children’s magazines and Burne Jones illustrations.

On leaving school in 1918, he attended the Cambridge School of Art (1918-1922) where he became interested in calligraphy and in the work of Aubrey Beardsley, Richard Doyle, and William Morris. He received a scholarship to the Royal College of Art (1922-1926) to complete a diploma in illustration. At the college, he belonged to the circle of friends which included Eric Ravilious, Douglas Bliss and Enid Marx, a group tutored by Paul Nash. While still a student Edward Bawden and Eric Ravilious were commissioned by Sir Joseph Duveen to paint a mural at Morley College, London.

After graduating, Edward Bawden taught at Goldsmith’s College and the Royal College of Art He also worked on a large variety of projects for the Curwen Press (where Ravilious and Nash also worked) and subsequently for many other publishers, producing book illustrations and cover designs, posters and advertisements, leaflets and calendars, including commissions for Twinings, Poole Potteries, Westminster Bank and the London Transport Board.

In 1932, Edward Bawden married Charlotte Epton, who had been a fellow-student at the Royal College. They had two children, Joanna and Richard, both of whom became artists. He held his first one-man show, mainly of landscapes showing the influence of Nash, at the Zwemmer Gallery in London in 1933. During World War II, he served as an Official War Artist in the British Army, travelling to Belgium, France and the Middle East. He produced mostly watercolours at this point. Some of his paintings depict the unique life led by the Marsh Arabs in Southern Iraq.

It was during the late 1950’s and the 1960’s that he produced linocuts and lithographs for which he is best known - among them Brighton Pier, Liverpool Street Station, and the series Nine London Monuments. His later work is notable for its simplicity of line and its wit, and is representative of lino-cutting at its best. Between 1930 and 1970, Edward Bawden was an important member of the Great Bardfield Artists group of local artists. In 1951 he was appointed trustee of the Tate Gallery (1951-1958) and in 1962 he was appointed Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Art.

Edward Bawden died on 21 November 1989, aged eighty-six.

Image credit: Edward Bawden, Untitled watercolour (‘Landscape with Sunset’), 1927, Watercolour, Private Collection, © Estate of Edward Bawden