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Study Visit Review: Eric Ravilious

Eager OCA students from as far away as Yorkshire and Cardiff travelled by various means to meet up in South London to attend the study day at the Dulwich Picture Gallery where there is an exhibition of watercolours by Eric Ravilious.
For some time now a series of important exhibitions have taken place at both this venue and at the Courtauld Gallery. These two galleries have been able to specialise in small exhibitions of forgotten, neglected or underestimated artists that are not normally shown at the larger London venues. The artist Eric Ravilious (1903-1942) is a case in point. In his time he was a highly respected artist and teacher at the Royal College of Art who unfortunately lost his life while working as an Official War Artist.
In his time, Ravilious worked mainly as an illustrator, muralist, designer and as a water-colourist. In todays art world hierarchy, this combination of talents might relegate him to a lower status but this exhibition proves otherwise. His return to prominence began with a major exhibition of his work at the Imperial War Museum in 2006 and now this retrospective of Ravilious’ watercolours further establishes him as an important 20th century English artist.
The students who attended the day were mainly following the painting and drawing courses and this exhibition was an object lesson in how to find topics of unerring interest, how to construct a composition and how to use watercolour in a unique and creative way. Although Ravilious worked directly on a composition in pencil without preliminary sketches, he was not afraid to destroy unsuccessful attempts. This selection process kept the quality of his work high, as amply demonstrated by this excellent show.
Students were quick to use their sketchbooks, make notes of interest, analyse the pictures technically and later to include their findings in learning logs. Meeting up at lunchtime, they compared notes and opinions as well as sharing information on their respective courses. For a distance learning college this first hand student interaction is very important and having a tutor at hand to answer questions is invaluable.
The Dulwich Picture Gallery also has a fine collection of old master paintings. Among those is a painting by Rembrandt which holds the Guinness Book of Records title for being the most stolen painting from a public gallery – having been stolen 4 times and returned 4 times. Now firmly attached to the wall, our students were not tempted to try their luck.
Earlier this year, as a publicity stunt, the Gallery commissioned a Chinese copy of a painting to hang in the gallery and invited the audience to find which one was the fake. Now hung next to the original, this copy of a Fragonard painting was a source for lively discussion and comparison.
The session ended with students talking about their drawings, sharing their insights and all agreeing that the day had been well worth the effort of finding their way to this enterprising South London Gallery.
James Cowan. OCA Tutor

Posted by author: James Cowan
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12 thoughts on “Study Visit Review: Eric Ravilious

  • Although I booked, unfortunately I was unable to make this day. The work of Ravilious seems to blend with the Landscape course I am doing that deals with representation of the British countryside which Ravilious seems to have managed with artistic originality.
    His son, the late James Ravilious, who never really knew his father, also studied art yet became a photographer rather than a painter. His archive that covers a part of Devonshire and the community that lived there, is gradually gathering interest as an outstanding body of art. The South-West OCA had a day in which we saw original prints and heard a talk from his widow.
    As James Cowan writes above, “For a distance learning college this first hand student interaction is very important and having a tutor at hand to answer questions is invaluable.”

  • I thought it was a very beautiful and inspiring exhibition the paintings were very emotive I even brought the catalogue
    Dulwich is a lovely gallery set in lovely surroundings

    • The catalogue is excellent and of course it concentrates mostly on the watercolours. The catalogue from the Imperial War Museum exhibition is called Imagined Realities and has more information on his prints and design work. I would be interested to know if you see similarities in the work of father and son and especially in the way they portray landscape.

    • You can get it from Amazon (cheaper than at the gallery!) – it’s a really nice book, even though the reproductions are a wee bit less oomphy than the originals. From a photographic point of view, I think his work bears comparison with what Walker Evans was doing at much the same time in America…

  • It was a really good day – good ‘tutoring’, good exhibition. I get so much more out of a small group and a smallish exhibition, one actually gets to talk to everybody.

    • Yes, it was great to meet up face to face with some fellow students. And being able to see Ravilious’ work close up after studying some library books beforehand helpfully answered a few questions I had about what techniques he was using to achieve those effects.I really enjoy his paintings. It was also particularly helpful to get advice from Jim and his wife about looking at structure and thinking about whether compositions are dynamic or still. (PS re. Sonia’s comments about photos – although photography is allowed in the main gallery it was not allowed in the exhibition rooms)

  • I would recommend that illustration students who are within striking distance also try to see the show. I think he’s one of the illustrators listed in the history of illustration exercise.Lovely work- sounds like that was a productive and enjoyable day all round.

  • Would have loved to see photographs of the the Fragonard and copy. I’m sure more exhibition photos taken during study visits would be welcomed by overseas students not able to attend.

  • Thank you Jim (and Claire) for a great study day – most informative and stimulating! It was a particularly good exhibition to examine composition and the innovative use of watercolour. The lively discussions and interaction with other students is invaluable.

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