Art

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Ed­ward Baw­den Scrap­books

Pey­ton Skip­with and Brian Webb (Lund Humphries, £35)

The Lost Wa­ter­colours of Ed­ward Baw­den

James Russell (The Main­stone Press, £160)

ERIC RAVILIOUS and Ed­ward Baw­den, both born in 1903, met on their first day at the Royal Col­lege of art in 1922. They were seen as a pair and the cen­tre of a move­ment in paint­ing and de­sign. They had con­trast­ing per­son­al­i­ties: Ravilious smooth and easy-go­ing, if a bit mys­te­ri­ous; Baw­den prickly and worka­holic. as artists, Ravilious was the more ro­man­tic and Baw­den—well, what? Not a Mod­ernist, not a clas­si­cist, but some­one with his own style of draw­ing and paint­ing.

The ques­tion of what sort of artist Baw­den re­ally was comes closer to be­ing an­swered by two re­cent books that ex­plore com­ple­men­tary sides of his cre­ativ­ity. If you were told that the content of these books was the work of two dif­fer­ent peo­ple, you might be­lieve it. Ed­ward Baw­den Scrap­books se­lects pages from the five vol­umes that he made up from his own draw­ings, printed ephemera, let­ters and other od­dments, now in the col­lec­tion of the Fry art Gallery at Saf­fron Walden, Es­sex. These rep­re­sent Baw­den’s pri­vate life and the labyrinths of his psy­che.

The Lost Wa­ter­colours shows what the pub­lic would have seen in the 1930s had they at­tended his one-man ex­hi­bi­tions in Lon­don. It’s not that Baw­den had a split per­son­al­ity, but that, like Ravilious, he ap­proached dif­fer­ent tasks with dif­fer­ent me­dia and in­ten­tions.

as a water­colour painter, Baw­den was at least as prom­i­nent as his friend and re­ceived com­pli­men­tary re­views that are help­fully in­cluded in James Russell’s book. His early style was a cross between a naïve painter and a dis­tant fol­lower of Cézanne. Some­times, he could even be com­pared to L. S. Lowry. His sub­jects in the 1930s were en­tirely in the Es­sex coun­try­side. Doll-like fig­ures walk onto the set, but, of­ten, noth­ing much is hap­pen­ing ex­cept in the paint.

Both artists learnt from Postim­pres­sion­ism—and, closer to home, from the brothers Paul and John Nash—to forego the limpid washes of the sup­posed English tra­di­tion and work against the na­ture of the medium with hard-edged strokes. Baw­den favoured a highly sized, al­most shiny pa­per rather than an ab­sorbent one. The Lost Wa­ter­colours en­larges details to show his tech­nique close up, in­clud­ing the use of cob­bler’s wax or heel ball, fa­mil­iar to brass rub­bers, as a re­sist.

The ti­tle The Lost Wa­ter­colours is jus­ti­fied be­cause at least half the ex­am­ples, beau­ti­fully re­pro­duced in the lav­ish lim­ited-edi­tion book, have not been seen in pub­lic in liv­ing mem­ory. The re­sult was that only an in­com­plete im­pres­sion of this im­por­tant phase of Baw­den’s ca­reer could be ob­tained from ex­am­ples in pub­lic col­lec­tions, old books and mag­a­zines or in the salerooms; by con­trast, the gaps in the record of Ravilious’s work have been more thor­oughly filled.

The lost wa­ter­colours did not come to heel when called, but, as the pub­lisher of the book, Tim Main­stone, ex­plains, each in­volved de­tec­tive work to trace for­ward from records of sales and ge­nealog­i­cal re­search where clues to their where­abouts might be found. an es­say at the end of the book en­ter­tain­ingly chron­i­cles the hunt. Some of the finds are on show at The Fry Gallery un­til oc­to­ber 30 (www.fr­yart­gallery.org; 01799 513779) and, no doubt, more will fea­ture in a full Baw­den ret­ro­spec­tive at the Dul­wich Pic­ture Gallery, Lon­don SE21, in 2018.

Ed­ward Baw­den Scrap­books is an ec­cen­tric de­light for the eye and of­fers many hints for re­con­struct­ing the ethos of the group of friends who are the sub­ject of an­other forth­com­ing ex­hi­bi­tion, ‘Eric Ravilious & Co: The Pat­tern of Friend­ship, English artist-de­sign­ers 1922– 1942’, which will open at the Towner, East­bourne, in May 2017 (01323 434670; www. townereast­bourne.org.uk).

Baw­den’s hu­mour runs through­out, as much in the jux­ta­po­si­tions made on each page as in the in­di­vid­ual items, more than half of which are his own work­ing stud­ies for book il­lus­tra­tion, print­mak­ing and other projects.

Kew Pagoda in a colour­ful mix from Scrap­book B

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