Seven decades of Edward Bawden's Watercolours at the Fry Art Gallery

By Richard Moss | 07 August 2012
a painting of a bird's nets in a barren winter tree
Birds Nest© The Fry Art Gallery
Exhibition: Edward Bawden, Seven Decades of Watercolour, Fry Art Gallery, Saffron Walden, until September 2 2012

The Fry Art Gallery has returned to home territory with this intriguing exploration of the watercolours of Edward Bawden.

A subtle counterpart to last summer’s popular Eric Ravilious show, the gallery has mined their considerable collection for a retrospective of painting by a central local figure around whom the Fry’s collection of North West Essex artworks seems to flow naturally.

Bawden lived in nearby Great Bardfield at Brick House from the 1920s until his death in 1989 and watercolour painting was a constant during a lifetime's prodigious output which veered between painting, printmaking, draughtsmanship and graphic design.

Offering a neat counterpoint to his familiar woodcuts and illustrations, the series of beautiful watercolours also reveals some telling stylistic echoes of his peers – not least his friend and former housemate Eric Ravilious.

The Bawdens and the Raviliouses famously lived together at Brick House, and there are paintings here that will have people pondering the exchange of ideas that must have flowed during this fruitful pre-war era.

Bulford Mill near Black Notley is a classic example. Interestingly, it was painted in 1927, five years before Ravilious and his wife Tirzah moved in, but it shows a use of watercolour and cross hatching that Ravilious was later to claim as his own.

Pertinently, it also shows the influence of Paul Nash who tutored both artists at the Royal College Art.

Elsewhere the palette shifts from classic scenes of rustic dilapidation, churches and bucolic landscapes, towards impressionistically picturesque scenes of Sicilian street life.

Bawden's lino cuts and illustrations have become British classics, but this is a valuable chance to see another medium that he mastered and how his painting mirrored and influenced the progress of British art from the 1920s through to the 1980s.

More pictures:

a watercolour of a church tower seen through the bowers of an over-hanging tree
Little Sampford Church© The Fry Art Gallery
a watercolour landscape with rocks in the foreground and a green valley with cottages beyond
Bracken and Gorse, Gower Peninsula© The Fry Art Gallery
a watercolour of a mill with chimney set amidst trees and fields
Bulford Mill© The Fry Art Gallery
a watercolour of a cobbled street corner in Italy
The Belvedere, Genzano, Sicily© The Fry Art Gallery
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