Edward Bawden - A Retrospective (ends 9 September 2018)

Dulwich Picture Gallery

Dulwich Picture Gallery is presenting a major retrospective of work by the celebrated British artist and designer, Edward Bawden RA CBE (1903-89). This continues the trend begun with the E S Shepherd exhibition and followed by other successful shows by illustrators like Norman Rockwell, Escher and Eric Ravilious. There was a time, thankfully now past, when illustrators were not considered worthy enough to hang in the gallery alongside its permanent collection of Old Masters.

This is the first exhibition to look at every aspect of Bawden’s long career, showcasing a number of previously unseen works from his 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.

Bawden was a creator of imaginary worlds, inspired by stories, travels abroad and by the everyday world. Featuring 170 works, half of them from private collections, the exhibition is 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. Bawden took a tremendous delight in observing the world ‘off duty’, and the exhibition shows 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. This section also showcases earlier paintings, such as By the Sea, 1929-30, a humorous vision of the British on holiday.

Other rooms 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, and then Middle East and Europe, during which time he was on a ship that was torpedoed and survived for five days in an open boat, only to be rescued by Vichy France and briefly imprisoned. 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 features 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, ‘Edward Bawden’ is curated by James Russell, who curated ‘Eric Ravilious’ - Dulwich Picture Gallery’s most visited exhibition, in 2015. He is the author of ‘The Lost Watercolours of Edward Bawden’ (Mainstone Press), a study of Bawden’s 1930s paintings, as well as titles devoted to Eric Ravilious and other artists of the period.