Eric Ravilious: Illustrator and Book Designer

Artist Eric Ravilious is currently being celebrated in an exhibition at Dulwich Picture Gallery. The first major exhibition of Ravilious’ watercolours, the exhibition has been widely and enthusiastically reviewed in the press. Running until 31 August 2015, you can discover more about the exhibition and the art of Ravilious on the Dulwich Picture Gallery website.

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‘Knife Grinder’ (1938), from Country Fair, London, Country Life

Eric Ravilious (1903-1942) was an English painter, designer, book illustrator and wood engraver. He grew up in Sussex, and is particularly known for his watercolours of pastoral English landscapes. He served as an offical war artist however, and sadly died young when the aircraft he was travelling on was lost off the coast of Iceland in 1942.

GSA Library is lucky to hold a few examples of Ravilious’ work in its special collections. Knife Grinder appears the Country Life annual for 1938, entitled Country Fair. It was printed at the famous Curwen Press in Plaistow, London, and also features other original prints by Barnett Freedman and John Farleigh. The image was drawn for Ravilious’ seminal book High Street, first published in that year, which introduces the British high street in all its then variety. It paired Ravilious’ timeless illustrations with the engaging text of architectural historian J.M. Richards. Shops included the family butcher, the coach builder, the cheesemonger, the knife grinder and the oyster bar, and the book is particularly interesting when placed in the context of today’s debates of high street homogenisation. Only 2000 copies of the original book were printed before the lithographic plates were destroyed in the London Blitz. As a result, it has become one of the most collectable of all books from this period. GSA Library holds a facsimile edition for general consultation.

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‘Flower Spirit’ (1927), from The Woodcut, London, The Fleuron

The Flower Spirit appears in the first issue of The Woodcut in 1927 and demonstrates Ravilious’ extreme skill in all print media but particularly the woodcut. Again printed at the Curwen Press, the publication was produced annually and features a number of essays on the history of the print, along with contemporary examples of the art from artists such as Eric Gill, Paul Nash, Emil Nolde, Enid Marx, Frans Masereel, Rockwell Kent, and Ernst Barlach.

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Ravilious was also an accomplished applied artist, and his most famous, but often unremarked, design is of two Victorian gentlemen cricketers that have appeared on the front cover of every edition of Wisden’s Cricketers’ Almanack since 1938. His designs for the Everyman’s Library series of books were also widely known and encountered. He produced a number of design types for Everyman from around 1935 onwards. Titles are in the Perpetua Roman face designed by Eric Gill with abstract woodcut devices by Ravilious to the title pages. Repeating abstract endpapers printed in white and orange feature circular devices and ribbons, whilst the dust jacket displays an abstract knot design or a shell bearing EL to centre.

 

 

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