Cecil Higgins Art Gallery exhibition opens up the Edward Bawden Archive

By Culture24 Staff | 23 October 2009
a linocut picture showing Brighton pier

(Above) Brighton Pier. © the Estate of Edward Bawden

Exhibition: Edward Bawden, Cecil Higgins Art Gallery, Bedford until January 31 2010

The Cecil Higgins Gallery in Bedford is currently hosting the first major exhibition to draw on its extensive Edward Bawden Archive.

Showing considered foresight and judgement Bawden (1903-1989) chose Bedford as the ideal repository for his "remains" in the 1970s, and gifted the contents of his studio to the Gallery between 1981 and 1989.

a linocut of a man working in a garden with apple trees and other produce

Autumn. © the Estate of Edward Bawden

"My own wish would be for all the jigsaw pieces of my life's work to be together, not scattered willy-nilly to any institution," wrote the artist.

"I would much prefer to have my work in a good provincial gallery than distributed amongst the great London Galleries and Museums…I must say I should feel immensely happy if I could be allowed to leave my remains to Bedford."

The Gallery now holds an impressive collection of more than 3,000 items. Ranging from his early student days at the Cambridge School of Art in 1919 to commissions from the Folio Society in the 1980s, the Archive reveals the full range of Bawden's talents as a watercolourist, printmaker, muralist, commercial artist, designer, illustrator and teacher.

a poster with a montage of ducks towers and vegetation

Poster for the London Passenger Transport Board, Kew Gardens. © the Estate of Edward Bawden

Included in the collection is a series of linocuts – arguably Bawden's most famous and popular medium – based on commissioned work and printed specifically for Cecil Higgins Art Gallery.

One of the most significant graphic designers of the 20th century, Bawden's career reads like a who's who of mid-20th century British art. Born in 1903, the same year as Graham Sutherland, Ceri Richards, John Piper, Barbara Hepworth and Eric Ravilious, he attended The Royal College of Art where he was tutored by Paul Nash.

a waterclour showing a railtrack mountains and silo

To Winnipeg. © the Estate of Edward Bawden

Here he also met Harold Curwen of the Curwen Press, through which he reached a mass audience via commissions for advertising projects, book jackets, posters and wallpapers.

In 1940 he was appointed an Official War Artist and was present at Dunkirk, also travelling to Italy, Africa and the Middle East. After the war he exhibited at the two major expositions of his age, the Britain Can Make It exhibition (V and A, 1946) and the Festival of Britain, in 1951.

an illustration of man smoking a cigarette

Book Jacket - The Victim by Saul Bellow. © the Estate of Edward Bawden

Later years saw him teach at Goldsmiths, the Royal Academy and Royal College Art schools.

Visitors can see the fruits of this remarkable career with a series of impactful artworks that touch on all aspects of the artist’s oeuvre. Large linocuts show how he could be bold and experimental in a traditional medium as seen in works such as Brighton Pier (1958), The Pagoda, Kew Gardens (1963) and Nine London Monuments (1966).

Great watercolour pieces include To Winnipeg (1950) and Decorations for my Studio, Boxing Day (1981); whilst his copper engravings and lithographs include excellent examples such as Southcliffe Beach (1927) and City of London (1952).

a film poster with a painting of a train on it

Titfield Thunderbolt Poster. © the Estate of Edward Bawden

Bawden was also a very successful commercial designer whose work spanned over 60 years and his commissions included book illustrations, advertisements, posters, wallpapers, ceramics, textiles, furniture and murals.

The dust jacket for Saul Bellow's the Victim (1948) is just one of a series of iconic design pieces in the exhibition that range from hand printed wallpapers and advertising designs for London Transport, Shell, and BP to designs for murals, menu cards, ceramics and textiles.

Showcasing more than 100 works, the exhibition is the first opportunity to see a full survey of Bawden's extensive and varied output culled from the best collection of his work in the world.

The show is accompanied by the publication, Edward Bawden, lavishly illustrated in colour throughout, featuring previously unpublished material and a complete catalogue of the Edward Bawden Archive held at Cecil Higgins Art Gallery.

Find out more about the Edward Bawden Archive

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