ALFRISTON put yet more gloss on its artistic credentials with a sell-out talk celebrating the work of Eric Ravilious.
Organised by Cate Olsen and Nash Robbins from Much Ado Books in the village, the event had to be re-scheduled to Deans Place Hotel to accommodate the hundreds who’d applied for tickets.
Speaker James Russell, author of Ravilious in Pictures, illustrated his presentation with an informative slide show illustrating both Ravilious’ paintings; the landscapes which inspired them and intriguing ‘then and now’ depictions of his homes in both Essex and Sussex.
James’ fourth and final volume in the Ravilious series is called A Travelling Artist, and during his talk he explained how the painter travelled around Britain polishing and refining his distinctive watercolour technique. The audience heard how he would venture out in all weathers, holding down his flapping papers and wrapping up against the driving rain so he could capture that elusive early dawn brightness. Initial drawings and paintings were later finished in his studio. He was eventually allowed the relative luxury of painting Beachy Head seascapes from Belle Tout Lighthouse.
James Russell showed Ravilious’ best-known works – the cheerful view of Newhaven harbour contrasted with a more sombre wartime depiction.....and wondered whether the strands of barbed wire in his Long Man painting echoed forbodings of darkness to come.
A pupil at the Eastbourne School of Art and the Royal College of Art where he studied under Paul Nash and became close friends with Edward Bawden, Ravilious became one of the best-known painters of the 1930s. His watercolours were painted with a fine stippling technique and he was inspired by the landscape of the South Downs around Firle and Beddingham. He stayed at Furlongs, the home of Peggy Angus west of Firle, and said of his time there: “It altered my whole outlook and way of painting, I think because the colour of the landscape was so lovely and the design so beautifully obvious.”
During World War II, firstly as an official war artist and later a captain in the Royal Marines, Ravilious found it impossible to look as smartly turned out as his comrades, ‘usually with bits and pieces of uniform in the wrong place’ according to James Russell.
But his bravery was never in doubt – he was killed in 1942 at the age of 39 when a RAF air sea rescue mission failed to return to base at Iceland.
James’ books can be bought at Much Ado Books in Alfriston.