22 December 2015

Eric Ravilious' paintings. And his coronation mugs: 1937-1953

One of the most important legacies of the Industrial Revolution, the Wedgwood Collection, was at great risk of being broken up and sold off in 2014. The Art Fund had until the end of November 2014 to raise millions of pounds, to save the collection and transfer responsibility for its display in the Wedgwood Museum in Barlaston Staffordshire to the V & A. The money was indeed raised in time, and the collection ( 80,000 works of art, ceramics, documents, pattern books and photographs covering the 250-year history of Wedgwood) was saved!

The importance of the Barlaston Museum to Eric Ravilious will become clear in this post.

Eric Ravilious (1903-1942) studied at the Royal College of Art, under the watchful eye of his tutor Paul Nash. Then Ravilious worked as a painter who specialised in murals and soon began to produce wood-engravings. By 1925, critical assessment of the young man’s work was favourable and he won a travelling scholarship to Italy.

In the 1920s-early 1930s I am assuming that he thought of himself a designer in a whole range of art forms, including glass, fur­niture and graphic work for London Transport advertisements. His first mural commission was completed with Edward Bawden, suggesting career paths in industrial and commercial design.

But then he surprised folk by concentrating, from the mid 1930s, on watercolour paintings. From a landscape perspective he was fascinating, with those subtle distortions, unusual textures and patterns, curious perspectives and framing devices all combining to give the paintings their unique and hard-to-define quality. Almost haunting and almost lyrical.

 Tea at Furlongs, 1939

Eric Ravilious and his wife Tirzah Gar­wood moved to rural Essex in 1930 and initially lived with Edward and Charlotte Bawden in the little village of Great Bardfield. They leased an old Georgian home that was falling apart but the wives seemed to tolerate the lack of running water and electricity.

In 1934 Eric Ravilious was invited by the artist Peggy Angus to stay at her home, Furlongs. Furlongs was a small flint-faced cottage on the Firle Estate on Sussex's South Downs. Ravilious was captivated by the local landscape and over the next five years he and Tirzah visited many times. In both homes, Ravilious' paintings were watercolours that combined taut design with a light touch, pale colours and a very careful composition.

 Interior at Furlongs, 1939

What I did not know was that Ravilious produced several designs for Wedgwood, particularly in response to their commission for the coronation of King Edward VIII after his father’s death in January 1936. As the world found out, Edward wanted to marry the twice-divorced Mrs Simpson; so the new king felt he had no choice but to abdicate in December 1936 and leave Britain. The celebratory mug was no long­er needed for King Edward’s coronation but it could certainly be revised and used for the next coronation, that of King George VI in May 1937.

Ravilious did not know that he was going to die on war service in 1942, accompanying a Royal Air Force air sea rescue mission off Iceland. But he had already created pencil drawings which could be later made into engravings by the decorators at Wedgwood. Eleven years after his death, Ravilious' celeb­ratory mugs were once again very popular for the 1953 coronation of Queen Elizabeth II!

For King Edward's coronation, 1937 (top)
King George's coronation, 1938

Examine the 1953 coronation design. The earthenware was transfer-printed in black and enamelled in colours. Note the Royal Arms and with bursting yellow enamel fireworks above the inscription '1953 ER'. The lower part of the mug was washed in pale pink. 

We can see that the old (1936) Ravilious designs had been maintained with their original unusual textures and very pale patterns, in time for the 1953 celebrations.

For Queen Elizabeth's coronation, 1953 
front and back

Ravilious also designed a commemorative Barlaston mug in 1940, celebrating Wedgwood’s move to its new purpose-built factory at Barlaston. Even though it was in the middle of WW2, Ravilious came up with a revol­ut­ionary design that was produced by the new lithographic process and enhanced by hand colouring, rather than using the more-traditional skills of transfer-printing and hand-enamelling. The mug featured the bust Josiah Wedgwood I. Impressions of the pottery kilns and stylised flames appeared on either side of the portrait.

Barlaston mug, 1940
with Wedgwood's bust on reverse

Ravilious’ designs, which gave a sense of both times past and cont­inuity, are on permanent display at The Wedgwood Museum in Barlaston, Stoke-on-Trent!!

In 2015 the Fry Art Gallery in Saffron Walden in Essex also celebrated the Ravilious objects. The main gallery dis­played works by the Bardfield Artists, from the arrival of Edward Bawden and Eric Ravilious in 1930. The "Art Of Acquisition Exhibition" continued until late October 2015, capturing the spirit of the Great Bardfield artists' houses via their wallpaper designs, rugs, fabrics, water col­ours and ceramics.


Mandy Southgate said...

I really like the King Edward VIII and Barlaston mugs! It is interesting - I was just planning a day out with my mum over the break and AudleyEnd House in Saffron Waldon was one of the options I gave her. Sadly the house is itself is closed for the winter so we will go in spring instead. I shall have to try take my mum to Fry Art Gallery too when we visit (even though this particular exhibit is finished).

Gunn said...

Great artistic mugs! I like them all.

Joseph said...

What happened to Tirzah Garwood's career, before and after Ravilious' death?

Philip Wilkinson said...

Joseph: Tirzah Garwood produced a fine but small body of wood engravings, pretty much all of which were done before her marriage to Ravilious. After she married she produced very little artistic work. By the time Ravilious died she was being treated for breast cancer, which returned, alas, after treatment: she died aged just 42. There's a good post about her on my friend Neil Philip's blog Adventures in the Print Trade. This url should take you there: http://adventuresintheprinttrade.blogspot.co.uk/search?q=Garwood

Hels said...


in the last two years of my mum's life, we went out to a concert every Sunday, a restaurant every Tuesday and a lecture every Thursday. I miss her terribly, but at least I have great memories of all the activities we did together. Here is hoping 2016 is a great year for you and the family.

Good on you for considering The Fry Art Gallery in Saffron Walden. Until I was thinking about Ravilious in a bit more depth, Great Bardfield would not have popped up on my radar.

Hels said...


Thank you.

not only artistic, but distinctive as well. You might see 1000 coronation mugs in a row, and once you got your eye in, you would recognise a Ravilious design in a heart beat.

Hels said...


I can find a great deal of writing about Ravilious' art and plenty of places to see it, but not too much about Bawden and even less about Garwood. I believe we can say that of all the artists who had connections with north west Essex and then further afield, Ravilious is the star (at the moment).

Thank goodness for Philip Wilkinson :)

Hels said...


that reference is super, thank you. Who knew that Ravilious was Tirzah's art teacher? And I am delighted to know that "by 1927 she was already exhibiting engravings at the Redfern Gallery, London. Over the next four years she was widely recognised as one of the most promising wood engravers of the day, and this at the height of the wood engraving boom."

She married in 1930. After marriage, she designed "beautiful marbled papers" but no more amazing wood engravings. She would not have been the first female artist in the world to find that "a sense of artistic rivalry might not be conducive to marital bliss". *Sigh*

Shabana said...

I liked all beautiful mugs ,your place is very nice keep sharing wonderful stuff best wishes

Khairpur, Shindh, Pakistan

Hels said...


welcome to Art and Architecture, mainly. I hope 2016 is a wonderful year for you.

Hels said...

Joseph. A further thought on being a (recent) star.

The new exhibition of watercolours by Eric Ravilious at the Dulwich Picture Gallery was this summer. A dozen years ago, when the Imperial War Museum mounted the last show of Ravilious's work to celebrate his centenary, he was still a little-known figure with people struggling to pronounce his name. Today, he is one of the most revered British artists of the inter-war years. What has changed and what is it about his work that makes it so beguiling and also so modern? The excellently illustrated accompanying book by the exhibition's curator James Russell will further help find an answer.

Peyton Skipwith
Country Life, 29th April 2015

Hels said...


I wonder if you had ever seen "New Year Snow" 1938. The winter colours in this Welsh landscape were haunting.

Mandy Southgate said...

Gosh, that is lovely! I see it not as haunting but the necessary ice before rebirth.