Eric Ravilious Artist Biography

Eric Ravilious was one of the best British water colourists of the 20th Century. Good natured, Ravilious was known as 'Rav' or 'The Boy', and spent much of his time in the common room chatting up girls. He loved dancing, tennis and pub games, was constantly whistling, and even in the mid-1930's he found little time for politics. 'I never saw him depressed,' recalled his friend from the Royal College, Douglas Percy Bliss, 'Even when he fell in love' and that was frequently 'he was never submerged by disappointment. Cheerfulness kept creeping in.'

The English painter, wood engraver, lithographer and designer was born in Acton, London but grew up in Eastbourne, Sussex. He was educated at Eastborne School of Art and then, on receipt of a scholarship at the Royal College of Art, from 1922-1925. As a student in the design school of the Royal College of Art, Ravilious was taught by Paul Nash and his contemporaries included; Edward Bawden, Edward Burra and Henry Moore. He immediately struck up a close friendship with Edward Bawden; the two had similar tastes, admiring the wood engraver Thomas Bewick and the proto-modern 18th-century water colourists John Sell Cotman and Francis Towne. As students, they went on a joint pilgrimage to Samuel Palmer's Shoreham. Paul Nash encouraged Eric Ravilious to take up wood engraving, which enjoyed a revival in the 1920s, and he soon began to work for the small, "private presses" that flourished in the same decade, such as the Curwen Press and the Golden Cockerel Press.

In 1928, Eric Ravilious and Edward Bawden got their first breakthrough, a commission to paint murals for the refreshment room of the Morley Working Men's College in Lambeth. The murals were opened by the prime minister, Stanley Baldwin, and received much attention in the press. In 1930, Eric Ravilious married Tirzah Garwood, who was a student at Eastbourne School of Art, where he had been teaching part-time.

By the 1930s, he began painting larger compositions in a wider range of colours, and this led him to use lithography. In 1936, Eric Ravilious went on to design for Wedgwood - a fine china, porcelain, and luxury accessories company. In 1937, the company brought out the George VI commemorative Coronation Mug, which was drawn and revised for the coronations of George VI and Elizabeth II. He also designed glass for Stuart Crystal, furniture for Dunbar Hay and graphic work for advertisements for London Transport and others. In 1938, Country Life published the book High Street, by J. M. Richards, for which Ravilious supplied a series of lithographs documenting the charms of certain Victorian high street shops. In 1939, Eric Ravilious became a War Artist, and during World War II he depicted such objects as 'De-iceing Aircraft' (1942). Just as he had always enjoyed the lines and curves of farm equipment, he now found visual pleasure in machines of war, from submarines to screw propellers.

In the midst of a grim sea battle off Norway in 1940, he reported 'I enjoyed it a lot, even the bombing which is wonderful fireworks.' On the 2nd of September 1942, he went out on an air-sea rescue mission in search of an aircraft lost the previous day, and the Hudson plane in which he was flying itself disappeared.

Much of Eric Ravilious' subject matter is pastoral, and he was a virtuoso at capturing everyday scenes and little details from English provincial life. His landscapes and rural interiors often featured the down land and coast of southern England; haunting and lyrical, these works show a world in suspense and often featuring chalk hill figures and empty rooms. His paintings are often emotionally cool; the palette is restrained, the paint application light and dry, with plenty of white showing, and lots of hatching and stippling.

More art prints from Eric Ravilious

Chalk Figure near Weymouth By Eric Ravilious
Letter Maker By Eric Ravilious
Diving Controls (2) (1941) By Eric Ravilious
Alphabet - Blue By Eric Ravilious
Family Butcher By Eric Ravilious
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