From Hammersmith to the Essex countryside, the subdued charm of Eric Ravilous’ landscapes and domestic scenes is a simple and undeniably nostalgic one. Documenting British home life – and later, life in the Royal Marines – Ravilious’ illustrations evoke days and nights in 20th century England with a gentle clarity.
In what may be regarded as a more dramatic oeuvre, Paul Nash evokes the bleak, torn-up landscape of Britain during and after the war. Half a century after a circle of artists had such a profound impact on the rendering of British scenery, York Art Gallery’s “Paul Nash and the Uncanny Landscape” is not to be missed. Nash was undeniably a leading figure whilst twentieth-century British landscape tradition was taking shape – and the retrospective in York attests to this, curated with delicacy and detail by John Stezaker. With this in mind, it was with interest that I went to see “Ravilious & Co: The Pattern of Friendship.”
Paul Nash, “Winter Sea”, 1925-1937
In keeping with the apparent resurgence of interest in these post-war artists, many of whom were contemporaries, the Millennium Gallery in Sheffield presents a loving retrospective marking the 75th anniversary of Ravilious’ death. But these two artists were more than just contemporaries – they were friends. The Millennium exhibition explores the close, almost familial, friendships between Ravilious and a whole circle of creators, including – but not limited to – Paul Nash, John Nash, Enid Marx, and Barnett Freedman. An artistic narrative that is often overlooked in favour of the sensual lover or the intellectual partnership, the group dynamic of friendship is playfully alluded to in the notes accompanying the work. The exhibit itself is jumbled and labyrinthine, pleasantly separating the aspects of the artist’s life into smaller ‘rooms’. A little alcove displays the illustrative work of Ravilious and his contemporaries like books on a shelf, and a homely compartment towards the centre is filled with decorative work, evoking the artist’s time with friends in a rural cottage in Sussex.
Eric Ravilious, ‘Church Under a Hill.’ c.1925. V&A
The work on display is distinct yet diverse, straddling the boundary between fine art and design. A large part of the exhibit is dedicated to Ravilious’ wartime paintings. Having earned the title of Honorary Captain in the Royal Marines, Ravilious was stationed at Chatham dockyard, and as a result produced numerous studies of ships and coastal defences. This work is softer than the richly symbolic, harsh landscapes of Paul Nash. The intertwining of the artist’s creations is subtle here, and one can almost track the development as they entered and influenced each other’s lives.
The emphasis on the lifelong exchanges in the group made the emotional note at the end of the Sheffield retrospective that little bit more poignant; particularly the moment after one particular bleak image (painted by Ravilious during the war period) when one learns that the artist died when an aircraft he was in was lost near Iceland. His body was never recovered.
Although perhaps a little cluttered at first glance, the Ravilious exhibit is curated with finesse, and does not overlook the design aspect, which evokes a nostalgia for domestic living.
“Ravilious & Co: The Pattern of Friendship” is a touring exhibition from Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne. It is on tour to Millennium Gallery, Sheffield from 7 October 2017 to 7 January 2018 & then Compton Verney, Warwickshire from 17 March to 10 June 2018.