Eric Ravilious

Catalogue number
  • ART/WA2/03/037
Art and Popular Design
Part of
  • whole: 220pp

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Gleadowe of the Admiralty approached Ravilious and John Nash regarding six-month appointments as Admiralty artists at a salary of £325, under a total output scheme, plus maintenance allowance and expenses. Ravilious was enthusiastic about the appointment "after the quiet life in the Observer Corps here since war began". The contract began on 10 Feb 1940. Before this appointment commenced, Ravilious wrote regarding a series of lithographs, which he wished to produce, with the Curwen Press, for which he asked for the Committee's investment; the committee deferred its decision. Ravilious was sent first to Chatham from where he wrote the first of his regular, interesting and enthusiastic reports on his work and experiences. From then on he travelled widely to, and out of, naval bases and began to send back work. When asked if he would have work for the first of the National Gallery exhibitions in July 1940, he offered 13 drawings, which he wished to be framed in sycamore with white slip. With typical modesty, he commented after the show's opening that there were too many of his drawings in the show. In the summer of 1940 he was working on a series of submarine interiors, and wrote of his fascination: "the scene is extraordinarily good in a gloomy way. There are small coloured lights about the place and the complexity of a Swiss clock" (47-48). His six-month contract was extended for a month, belatedly, but Dickey encouraged Ravilious to stay on beyond the time if he wished. In September, he was in Newhaven, not far from Eastbourne where he had spent his childhood, making "pre-invasion drawings of coast defences", reporting nonchalantly: "it is marvellous on the cliffs in this weather, though the wind blows a bit, and bombs fall every afternoon, and sometimes planes". Ravilious was then granted a further six months contract, which was to be deferred to allow him time to work on his submarine lithographs. Ravilious was now interested in publishing these as a book, but it proved impossible. The committee were not willing to fund the prints but decided to purchase the original drawings, although at first Ravilious could not find two of them, and one of the images was stopped by the censor. Ravilious also refers briefly to his invitation to designing for the Cotton Board (64-65), a commission he did work on, and there is a brief mention of Ravilious's appointment, before the resumption of his Admiralty commission, to work on drawings of the Ministry of Home Security's Control Room. His new contract with the Admiralty began on 15 Jul 1941, first in Dover, but then to the east coast ports of Scotland, at the suggestion of his friend and fellow Admiralty artist John Nash. Here he spent time with the Fleet Air Arm and developed a fascination for planes, particularly Walruses. "I do very much enjoy drawing these queer flying machines . They are comic things with a strong personality like a duck, and designed to go slow". In January 1942 Ravilious received in principle approval of a proposal to go to Russia, but felt there would not be time. At the end of the current contract, when a renewal was suggested, he requested that he be allowed to work on air subjects rather than naval. His new contract began on 22 February 1942 and he spent time at air bases in the plain of York and at Sawbridgeworth. In June and July, there was much discussion of a MoI proposal of two subjects for Ravilious, ultimately abortive despite his enthusiasm: the concealment of chalk images and chalk railway- and road-cuttings. Meanwhile Ravilious was talking of a series of six pictures of Tigers – "a tricky but amusing job the subject is so fluid and shifting". (118). Lord Willoughby de Broke had suggested that Ravilious might go to Iceland with the RAF, and he left at the end of August. On the 2nd September, his flight failed to return and he was reported missing, presumed dead. The remainder of the file consists of presscuttings, texts for obituaries, biographical notes, and protracted correspondence regarding the question of compensation and pension for Ravilious's widow, Tirzah (Eileen). There are also some enquiries from would-be purchasers of his work; correspondence between the IWM and the Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne, regarding a memorial exhibition in 1948; and correspondence and text of an article on Ravilious by Mollie Baxter.

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