Profile: Edward Bawden

Bawden was born in Braintree, Essex, and first studied at the Cambridge School of Art from 1919 to 1921.  This was followed in 1922 by a scholarship to the Royal College of Art School of Design, where he took a diploma in illustration until 1925.  Importantly, here he met fellow student and future collaborator Eric Ravilious, both of whom were taught by the influential artist Paul Nash, who referred to them as “an extraordinary outbreak of talent”.

He was a prolific painter, illustrator and graphic artist.  He was also famous for his prints, book covers, posters, and garden furniture.

By 1925 Bawden was working one day a week for the Curwen Press (as was Ravilious and their former tutor, Nash), producing illustrations for leading accounts such as London Transport, Westminster Bank, Twinings, Poole Potteries and Shell-Mex.  In the early 1930s he was discovered by the famous Stuart Advertising Agency, owned by H. Stuart Menzies and Marcus Brumwell.  At this time Bawden produced some of his most humorous and innovative work for Fortnum & Mason and Imperial Airways.  It was also in this period that Bawden produced the tiles for the London Underground, which were exhibited at the International Building Trades Exhibition at Olympia in April 1928.

During the Second World War, Edward Bawden served as one of the official war artists for Britain. He made many evocative watercolour paintings recording the war effort in Iraq. His paintings show the unique life led by the Marsh Arabs in southern Iraq, particularly their majestic dwellings made of reeds. 

His connection with Morley goes back to 1928 when he, Eric Ravilious and Charles Mahoney were commissioned by Sir Joseph Duveen at the rate of £1 per day to create murals for the Refectory and Prince of Wales Hall at Morley College. The murals were opened in 1930 by Stanley Baldwin, later to be the Prime Minister.  The murals were destroyed when an enemy bomb fell and destroyed most of the College in 1940.

When the College was flattened by a bomb in 1940, the Principal, Eva Hubback, wrote to all three artists, expressing her sadness over the loss of their work.  She hoped that the artists would return and create new work when the College was rebuilt.  It took another eighteen years before a new Morley was ready and Ravilious was sadly dead.  Bawden suggested The Canterbury Tales as a subject as the fictional pilgrims would have passed close by. 

Bawden lived in Great Bardfield, Essex from the 1930s to 1970, where he was an important member of the Great Bardfield Artists. This group of local artists were diverse in style, but shared a love for figurative art, making the group distinct from the better known St Ives art community in Cornwall.

During the 1950s the Great Bardfield Artists organised a series of large ‘open house’ exhibitions which attracted national press attention.  Positive reviews and the novelty of viewing art works in the artists own homes (including Bawden’s Brick House) led to thousands visiting the remote village during the summer exhibitions of 1954, 1955 and 1958. As well as these shows the Great Bardfield Artists held several touring exhibitions of their work in 1957, 1958 and 1959.  He also had three watercolours in the Inaugural Exhibition in the Morley Gallery in 1969, Bloody Foreland I, Palace of Darius and Salle I.  There was an exhibition of Bawden’s works in the Morley Gallery in 1973.

After the death of his wife in 1970, Bawden moved to the nearby town of Saffron Walden, where he continued to work until his death at home on 21 November 1989.

Edward Bawden: Storyteller at Morley Gallery marks the first major retrospective of Bawden’s work since his death. The show runs from the 4 – 26 November.

This exhibition it a part of our 125 year anniversary celebrations.

With our Edward Bawden exhibition quickly approaching we profile the man and what brought him to Morley.

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