This exhibition has finished.
Dulwich Picture Gallery presents a major retrospective of work by the celebrated British artist and designer, Edward Bawden RA CBE (1903-89).
It is the most wide-ranging exhibition since Bawden’s death, and the first to look at every aspect of his 60-year career, showcasing a number of previously unseen works from the Bawden family’s private collection as well as 18 rarely seen war portraits, displayed together for the first time.
Widely respected as an innovative graphic designer, book illustrator and printmaker, Edward Bawden is best known today for his monumental linocuts and for the witty designs he made for companies like Shell and Fortnum & Mason. Meanwhile his achievements as a fine artist have been largely forgotten. Along with Paul Nash and Eric Ravilious, Bawden reinvented watercolour for the 20th century, and a central aim of this exhibition is to bring this work back into public view.
Featuring 170 works, half of them from private collections, the exhibition will be arranged thematically to follow the evolution in his style and the constant creative dialogue between media and disciplines, with rooms dedicated to leisure, architecture, animals and fantasy, as well as the previously unexplored theme of gardens.
The exhibition also includes a number of studies that show Bawden’s working methods, along with personal letters revealing the relationship between his handwriting and his drawing, and the blotter from his desk across which a web of doodles evolves into patterns and shapes – displayed publicly for the first time.
Bawden took a tremendous delight in observing the world ‘off duty’, and the exhibition will open with a wide-ranging display of works devoted to leisure and pleasure, with particular focus on Bawden’s talents in commercial design. Highlights include early designs for London Underground and Fortnum & Mason as well as book designs for companies such as Imperial Airways, and London and North Eastern Railway. These works show Bawden’s invention of new styles of lettering and bordering, which he combined with illustration in interesting and pleasing ways. This section will also showcase earlier paintings, such as By the Sea, 1929-30, a humorous vision of the British on holiday that shows Bawden’s delight in the everyday goings-on of ordinary people, as well as a giant map of Scarborough, illustrated with holidaymakers and mythical creatures.
The exhibition also displays watercolours, engravings and linocuts on the theme of plants and gardens including Rain, 1926, on display for the first time. The play of contrasts between soft natural forms and the hard geometry of buildings added drama to many Bawden compositions, including Yucca, 1970s. A deeper look at Bawden’s engravings and lithographs also shows Bawden’s playful use of perspective, as in Mount Pleasant Road and London Back Garden, both created in 1927.
Other rooms will reflect Bawden’s fascination with places and architecture, with watercolours and linocuts depicting Essex churches and Ethiopian palaces. As an official war artist Bawden spent the years 1940-45 travelling around North Africa, the Middle East and Europe, and alongside paintings of the places he visited he created a remarkable series of portraits. Up to this point Bawden’s depictions of the human figure were rarely bigger than a matchbox, but now he successfully battled his own feelings of inadequacy as an artist to produce some of the most compelling artworks of the conflict such as A Sergeant in the Police Force formed by the Italians, 1940-1944. Portraits of Iraqi Jews, Kurds and Marsh Arabs will be displayed alongside servicemen of different African nations, revealing the range of people Bawden encountered and his warm treatment of all.
The exhibition culminates with an exploration of Bawden’s lifelong love of storytelling. One wall is covered in original drawings, almost all from private collections, that span every decade from the 1920s to the 1980s. Another will feature studies for some of Bawden’s best-loved murals, while the last works are among his most colourful and inventive, including several linocuts from his much-loved series, Aesop’s Fables.
Highlights include designs for Fortnum & Mason and Twinings, alongside fanciful illustrated books created by Bawden for his children.
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