Edward Bawden – Tortoise
Edward Bawden was born in 1903 in Braintree, Essex. He was a painter, an illustrator and a graphic artist, who began his training under the artist Paul Nash in the 1920’s. He studied at the Royal College of Art in London with Eric Ravilious, and was described by Paul Nash as ‘an extraordinary outbreak of talent’. He began his career working one day a week for the Curwen Press, for which he would produce illustrations for companies such as London Transport, Westminster Bank and Twinning’s. He was later discovered by the Stuart Advertising Agency, and it was during his time there that Bawden created his most innovative works for Fortnum and Mason and Imperial Airways. During the Second World War, Bawden served as one of the official war artists for Britain, and during this time made many watercolours recording the war in Iraq.
Bawden lived in Great Bardfield in Essex during the 1930’s – 1970’s and it was while living there that he became a member of the Great Bardfield Artists. This group of artists all shared a passion for figurative art although all diverse in their styles. After the death of his wife in 1970, Bawden moved to Saffron Waldon where he continued to work until his death in 1989.
This engraving is part of a series of 15 copper line engravings produced between 1927 and 1929. Three editions were then printed, the first as they were produced, the second in 1973 and a third published by Merivale Editions in March 1988 to celebrate the 85th birthday of Edward Bawden. The occasion was marked by an exhibition of the engravings at the Victoria and Albert Museum. These engravings were produced for his friends when the artist was in his mid-twenties, back from Italy after his student days at the Royal College of Art and working in London on endless commissions. Virtually no copies were sold and only six were exhibited at the St. George’s Gallery, near Hanover Square in October 1927. The Jetty Beach, Reverie and Tortoise were among them, along with works by his fellow student Eric Ravilious.
Line engravings although offering a wonderful array of tones were neither very popular nor highly regarded until then. It was a French engraver E Laboureur (1877-1943) who was to bring a revival of interest in this form of engraving, his work as a book illustrator being very much sought after during the 20s when Bawden was a student. Paul Nash, Bawden’s mentor, was also an informed follower of the French engraver. It is against such background that these copper engravings were produced, as part of a revival which came to an abrupt end with the Depression.
They are essentially domestic and take their inspiration from Bawden’s immediate surroundings. Liverpool Street Station for example was the railway station used by the artist to visit his parents’ home in Braintree, in Essex. The Jetty Beach recalls Bawden’s visits as a child to Clacton, a crowded Essex seaside resort here arranged in a kaleidoscope composition of childhood images. Tortoise recalls a pet he had as a small child and Reverie is the image of the artist’s cat, ever present in his life and work.
These line engravings are a record of Bawden’s early years of maturity; they are private and on those accounts of great interest.
- BACON, Caroline and McGREGOR, James, Catalogue of the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery Edward Bawden Archive, Trustees of the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery
- BLISS, Douglas Percy, Edward Bawden, Pendomer Press, 1978
- GILMOUR, Pat, Artists at Curwen, Tate Gallery, 1977
- GREENWOOD, Jeremy, Edward Bawden: Editioned Prints. Wood Lea Press, 2005
- HARLING, Robert, Edward Bawden, Art & Techniks, 1950
- McKITTERICK, David, Introduction to the catalogue of the exhibition of 15 engravings at the Victoria & Albert Museum, 1988
- McLEAN, Ruari, Book of Cuts, Scolar Press, 1978
- RICHARDS, J.M., Edward Bawden. (Penguin Modern Painters Series) Penguin, 1946
- YORKE, Malcolm, The Inward Laugh: Edward Bawden and His Circle, The Fleece Press, 2005