The London Journalist's Edward Mirza headed to Compton Verney Art Gallery and Park, Warwickshire, for two new Spring exhibitions; 'Ravilious and Co' and 'Created in Conflict'.
Compton Verney Art Gallery and Park is housed in a sumptuous Grade I listed Georgian (1714) mansion surrounded by 120 acres of stunning landscaped Grade II listed grounds rolling down to a picturesque bridge over a lake – Making this a wonderfully ideal destination for long Spring walks and absorbing art.
Ravilious and Co focuses on the art of Eric William Ravilious (1903 - 1942), an official war Artist (appointed by The War Artists Advisory Committee) during the year 1939, and commemorates the 75th anniversary of his tragic death at war in 1942. Having studied and then taught at the Royal College of Art, the exhibition takes on a narrative-like structure that revolves around the production of Ravilious and his associates who were connected with the Royal College of Art. - Marking a somewhat unexplored and unknown story.
The associates include Paul Nash (whom Ravilious studied under), Sir William Rothenstein, John Nash, Enid Marx, Barnett Freedman, Eileen ‘Tirzah’ Garwood (Ravilious's wife), Edward Bawden, Thomas Hennell, Douglas Percy Bliss, Peggy Angus, Helen Binyon, Diana Low, and also features female artists little known, tracing their artistic influences on one another and the inflections each brought to their craft.
Interestingly 90 of the 400 works on display have never been exhibited before, and 30% overall are by Ravilious: work for this exhibition has been borrowed from Tate Britain, The V&A, The Imperial War Museum, The National Portrait Gallery, 20 regional galleries, and from 41 private collections.
What one can observe is a milieu in which the tradition of oil on canvas painting and watercolour have crossed over into and merged, (in both directions in some cases) with design for typography, textiles, marbled paper, book jackets, ceramic, illustration and interior decoration, with artists being encouraged to work for London Transport, BBC, Wedgewood, The General Post Office, among others. This commercial design aspect was seen as part of a deliberate effort on the part of Sir William Rothenstein (then principal of the Royal College of Art, ), who encouraged his students to do so. Paul Nash, who although only taught at the college for 30 days is also remembered as having an indelible influence.
The designs on display strike one as familiar and offer the experience of being able to place the origins of these designs in context, matching them up with the culture at the time. If perhaps you have wondered where familiar book jackets you have seen on your parents or grandparents shelves may have come from, it may be interesting to see that they may well have been generated by this particular collective of British Artists.
Particularly famous are Ravilious's Wedgewood mugs designsn (known as ‘Ravilious Mugs’) notably the Alphabet mug (1937) , and a commemorative mug for the abortive coronation of Edward VIII, 1936.
It seems the methods involved in woodcutting (a method of printing used by both Ravilious and his wife Tirzah) may be seen to have bled back into painting in the hatching style used in some of his paintings. See Eric Ravilious’s Westbury Horse (1939) pictured below. Some of the Principal Rothenstein’s paintings are also on display. The differences between Tirzah’s approach to woodblock cutting, and that of Ravilious is that Ravilious would work directly onto the block, while Tirzah would produce a careful sketch first before transferring it.
Created in Conflict is a moving and poignant collection of work made by members of the British Armed Forces, engaged in warfare from the 19th century to the present day. Including artwork made during the Crimean war and within the World War I trenches.
Also featured are photographs of the creative soldiers, articles made by prisoners of war, sewed and embroidered objects made by soldiers (all soldiers were expected to sew, in order to fix their uniforms), ways they kept in touch with home, and collaborations between war veterans and contemporary artists. One work of art consists of the presentation of a domestic paintbrush inscribed with a tally for each time it was used to successfully diffuse a bomb.
A particularly poignant object shown at 'Created in Conflict' is a handmade violin made by soldier Arthur Walter Clarke during the war, which he inscribed with his different dates of service of his service as well as the names of his different friends and comrades he had lost.
‘Matchbox with Interior Scene’ (maker unknown, and from a private collection) consists of a matchbox containing a minute reconstruction of a domestic interior, as though the soldier carried it around in their pocket as a reminder of the ideals of domestic life and which he might enter, to some degree, by opening the matchbox.
‘A Welcome Arrival’ (1857) by John Dalbiac Luard set in the Crimean War, shows the joy of soldiers receiving gifts. The walls are decorated with pages from the Illustrated London News. Luard was a 18th/19th century painter, and student at the Slade School of Art, who paid a long service in his life to the British Army Services Corps.
This is a highly evocative and moving exhibition which gives the audience a valuable and moving insight into the personal experience, and humanity, of these soldiers.
Compton Verney is a great countryside experience for the culture-thirsty and makes a great Easter day-trip with a loved one or family.
Words by Edward Mirza
In addition to 'Ravilious & Co: The Pattern of Friendship' and 'Created in Conflict', both of which run from the 17th March through to the 10th June 2018, Compton Verney hosts 6 permanent collections (Naples, Northern European Art (1450 - 1650), British Portraits, Chinese, British Folk Art, and The Marx-Lambert Collection) all of which are very delightful, conducive to conversation and included in £15 adult exhibition pass.
The nearest stations are Leamington Spa, Stratford-upon-Avon, or Banbury.
Chiltern Railways offers a fast, efficient service from London and Birmingham which stops at all three of these stations.
Compton Verney is then a 25 minute taxi ride.