Eric Ravilious - A life in pictures

James Russell

Wednesday 20th September 2017

Eric Ravilious was only 39 when he died on active service as a war artist in 1942, yet he had already achieved amazing things. A brilliant wood engraver and designer, he is best known today for his haunting watercolours in which lighthouses, white horses, empty rooms and downland paths become marvels. Over the past decade James has explored many of these paintings in depth, teasing out stories and characters hidden in the wings. This illustrated talk illuminates the life and work of a playful, enigmatic artist, with plentiful examples of his work in watercolour, wood engraving, lithography and ceramics. The paintings are a delight, the Ravilious story funny, sad and full of surprises. 

James Russell studied History at Pembroke College, Cambridge, but was galvanized into writing about art by a lengthy stint selling contemporary paintings and sculpture in Santa Fe, New Mexico. A passionate advocate of 20th century painting and design, he writes and lectures widely. His books include the popular 4-volume series Ravilious in Pictures, about British watercolourist and designer Eric Ravilious (1903-42), and other titles devoted to Paul Nash, Peggy Angus, Edward Bawden and Edward Seago. He curated the 2015 exhibition Ravilious at Dulwich Picture Gallery and has lectured all over the country, from Rye to Glasgow and from the V&A to the Royal West of England Academy.


REVIEW of LECTURE, by Pat Shaw


This lecture was a wonderful opening to our 2017/18 programme. We attracted a large and appreciative audience. James  Russell, our lecturer, guided us through the life and work of Ravilious with  high quality illustrations and photographs of the wide variety of works showing  clearly the artistic achievements of a short but productive life.

 There has been a recent resurgence of interest in the work of this artist and the exhibition  at the Dulwich Gallery in 2015, curated by James Russell,  had much to do with this.  Ravilious now has a more prominent position in the cannon of English art.

The paintings we saw were essentially those of the English countryside, but it is a countryside fitted to his style and vision,  and I think even those in our audience who were not familiar with his work  will now recognise it.  The painting that remains in my memory, Dangerous Work at Low Tide, shows a  team of three men trudging across the beach towards an unexploded bomb. A dramatic event in itself but it gave Ravilious the opportunity to produce this wonderful study of light effects.

We also had the opportunity to see  his woodcuts which have been, over the years,  reproduced in books and greetings cards. And then there’s his pottery.

Our thanks  to James for an afternoon of pleasure . Certainly an excellent preparation for the visit we are planning to see the latest Ravlious exhibition at Compton Verney next spring.